- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 1, 2002

NEW YORK A reputed Russian crime boss was arrested yesterday on charges that he fixed two figure skating events at the Salt Lake City Olympics by arranging a vote-swapping deal, yet another bizarre twist in a scandal that has tainted the sport.
Alimzan Tokhtakhounov, arrested 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 exchange, he arranged for the Russian judge to vote for the French team that won the ice-dancing competition, according to a criminal complaint filed in Manhattan federal court.
The judging controversy resulted in a duplicate set of gold medals being awarded to the Canadian pairs team that had finished second.
Wiretaps used in a mob investigation captured a series of telephone calls between Mr. Tokhtakhounov in Italy and unnamed conspirators during the Olympics that "lay out a pattern of conduct that connects those two events," U.S. Attorney James Comey said at a news conference.
The suspect "arranged a classic quid pro quo: 'You'll line up support for the Russian pair; we'll line up support for the French pair, and everybody will go away with the gold, and perhaps there'll be a little gold for me,'" Mr. Comey said.
Prosecutors said that Mr. Tokhtakhounov hoped he would be rewarded with a visa to return to France, where he once lived.
Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze won the gold medal for Russia by the slimmest of margins in the pairs competition, defeating Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier.
But French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne said a day later that she had been pressured to vote for the Russians, who slipped during their routine.
The Canadians were virtually flawless in their performance.
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.
Le Gougne's Salt Lake City-based lawyer, Erik Christiansen, said she "has no involvement and no knowledge of this person or these allegations."
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."
Mr. 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 Mr. Tokhtakhounov as a "major figure in international Eurasian Organized Crime."
According to the complaint, Mr. 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 Moscow beauty pageants in the early 1990s.
The complaint says he used his influence with members of the Russian and French skating federations "to fix the outcome of the pairs and ice-dancing competitions at the 2002 Olympics." The court papers also say he worked with "unnamed co-conspirators."
Federal investigators said they obtained recorded telephone conversations between Mr. Tokh-takhounov and a French ice dancer in which Mr. Tokhtakhounov bragged about being able to influence the outcome of competitions, a senior law enforcement official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The official was not certain whether the ice dancer was a member of the winning team.
The complaint made it clear that the case was based on confidential informants and wiretaps. At one point, it said, wiretaps caught Mr. Tokhtakhounov talking to a female ice dancer's mother, telling her, "We are going to make your daughter an Olympic champion even if she falls, we will make sure she is number one."
Skating officials were stunned by the accusations.
Lloyd Ward, head of the U.S. Olympic Committee, said the organization was "deeply concerned."
"American athletes and the competitors from all nations must be assured that they compete on a level playing field," he said.
Giselle Davies, spokeswoman for the International Olympic Committee, said, "This kind of alleged activity has no place in the Olympic movement."
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.'"


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