- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 3, 2002

VENICE, Italy (AP) There could be even more changes in figure skating results from the Salt Lake City Olympics. Or they might even be thrown out.

Two top IOC officials yesterday left open the possibility of changing final scores in pairs and ice dancing from the Games, depending on the investigation into a reported vote-swapping deal orchestrated by a reputed Russian mobster.

The biggest judging scandal in Olympic history already has resulted in duplicate gold medals awarded to the Canadian pairs team.

"I am not ruling out anything, not even the annulment of the Olympic results," said Thomas Bach, vice president of the International Olympic Committee.

IOC president Jacques Rogge said he didn't want to punish athletes because of the "wrongdoing of some judges" but that no "action or sanction" would be ruled out.

"The information that we have received is too much to be ignored," Rogge said at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England.

Meanwhile, the man accused of scheming to fix the results of the two events contended he doesn't even follow the sport and said the charges against him are a "farce." Elsewhere, outraged figure skaters threatened to sue over media coverage of the investigation.

It all made for another hectic day in the scandal-marred world of figure skating, facing its biggest brouhaha since the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan affair before the 1994 Winter Games.

Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov was arrested Wednesday in Italy on U.S. charges he helped put together a vote-swapping deal to fix the results of the pairs and ice dancing competitions. Much of the case is based on phone conversations recorded during an investigation into the mob, and Italian police say that Tokhtakhounov indicated that six judges could be involved.

U.S. prosecutors say a "co-conspirator" connected with the Russian Skating Federation did the legwork after being contacted by Tokhtakhounov. The co-conspirator was not named in the complaint filed in New York, nor were any of the judges or others who might have been involved in the scheme.

After meeting Tokhtakhounov in a Venice jail, lawyer Luca Saldarelli said his client told him he worked "as an intermediary in international affairs" and was innocent.

"He's absolutely surprised. He doesn't know anything about the Salt Lake City Olympic Games," said Saldarelli, who indicated earlier his client would fight extradition. "He's not even a fan of figure skating."

Saldarelli said his client was a "friend of some great Russian athletes but not Olympians."

In France, Didier Gailhaguet, the suspended head of the French skating federation, denied having any contact with Tokhtakhounov "before, during or after" the Olympics.

But he said the federation met with him in spring 2000, at Tokhtakhounov's request, about a possible partnership "for the benefit of a Paris ice hockey club." Gailhaguet didn't elaborate, saying only that there was no follow-up to the exchange "and no contacts kept up."

Italian police said they had been looking into the Russian for his reported involvement with a Moscow-based crime group called the Sun Brigade.

Tokhtakhounov is accused of scheming to get a French judge to vote for the Russian pairs team and a Russian judge to vote in turn for the French ice dancing team. Both teams won.

French skating judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne said the day after the pairs competition that she had been pressured to vote for the Russians. She later recanted but still was suspended, as was Gailhaguet. Le Gougne has said she doesn't know Tokhtakhounov.

The judging scandal resulted in duplicate gold medals being awarded to Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, the Canadian pairs team that finished second to Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze.

Sikharulidze and Berezhnaya said they planned to sue U.S. television networks for using pictures of them in connection with coverage of the reputed mobster, and the Russian Olympic Committee said it would meet with lawyers.

"These events resemble the theater of the absurd," committee spokesman Gennady Shvets said, according to the Interfax news agency. "It's clearly a dirty and foolish insinuation that undermines respect for Russian sportsmen."

A week after the pairs competition, France's Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat won gold in ice dancing. Investigators say the winning female ice dancer presumably Anissina, although she is not named in court papers spoke to Tokhtakhounov on the phone after the event.

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