Published: Thursday, August 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 1, 2002 at 12:00 a.m.
Skating scandal tied to alleged crime boss
NEW YORK - An alleged Russian crime boss was arrested on charges he fixed figure skating results at the Winter Games, the latest twist in the biggest judging controversy in Olympics history.
Alimzan Tokhtakhounov, picked up Wednesday in Italy on U.S. charges, is accused of scheming to get a French judge to vote for the Russian pairs team, which won the gold medal in Salt Lake City. In exchange, according to a criminal complaint filed in Manhattan federal court, he arranged for the Russian judge to vote for the French ice dancing team, which also won.
Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze won the gold medal by the slimmest of margins in pairs figure skating, defeating Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier. But French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne said the next day she'd been pressured to vote for the Russians, who slipped during their routine while the Canadians were virtually flawless.
Four days later, the Canadians were given duplicate gold medals in a scandal that dominated the games.
Le Gougne later recanted but still was suspended, as was the head of the French skating federation, Didier Gailhaguet. Neither returned telephone messages seeking comment.
A week after the pairs competition, the ice dancing team of Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat won France's first gold in figure skating since 1932. Anissina was born in Russia. Irina Lobacheva and Ilia Averbukh of Russia took the silver.
When asked about the charges, Peizerat told The Associated Press: "I have never heard of this man."
Tokhtakhounov was arrested at his resort in Forte dei Marmi in northern Italy. He was charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit bribery relating to sporting contests. He faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count.
The criminal complaint identified Tokhtakhounov as a "major figure in international Eurasian Organized Crime."
According to the complaint, Tokhtakhounov "has been involved in drug distribution, illegal arms sales and trafficking in stolen vehicles." A confidential source told the FBI that he also had fixed beauty pageants in Moscow in the early 1990s.
The complaint alleges he used his influence with members of the Russian and French skating federations "in order to fix the outcome of the pairs and ice dancing competitions at the 2002 Olympics."
The court papers also contend he worked with "unnamed co-conspirators."
Federal investigators said they obtained recorded telephone conversations between Tokhtakhounov and a French ice dancer, in which he brags about being able to influence the outcome of competitions, a senior law enforcement official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The official was not certain whether the ice dancer was one of the winning team members, when the conversation was recorded or by which authorities.
The complaint made clear that the case was based on confidential informants and wiretaps. At one point, it said wiretaps caught the defendant talking to a female ice dancer's mother, telling her that, "We are going to make your daughter an Olympic champion - even if she falls, we will make sure she is number one."
Like the pairs competition, ice dancing was a point of controversy at the games.
Lithuanians Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas, who finished fifth, filed a protest questioning the voting that placed the couple lower than the Italian and Canadian couples who fell during the free dance, the final phase of the competition. The International Skating Union rejected the protest.
The Lithuanians said they didn't expect to win their appeal but came forward to generate publicity and expose judging inconsistencies.
"We wouldn't have done it unless there was such a stark realization that something was wrong, especially with the two skaters falling," said John Domanskis, spokesman for the Lithuanian Olympic team. "That certainly made it easier for our skaters to say, 'Yes, there is a problem, and it should be corrected.' "
Associated Press Writer Christopher Newton in Washington contributed to this story.
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