YORK, July 31 - A reputed Russian crime boss was arrested Wednesday
on charges he fixed two figure skating events at the Salt Lake City
Games by arranging a vote-swapping deal, yet another bizarre twist
in a scandal that has tainted the sport.
TOKHTAKHOUNOV, PICKED up 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 winning French ice dancing team, according to a criminal
complaint filed in Manhattan federal court.
judging controversy, the biggest in Olympic history, resulted in a
duplicate set of gold medals being awarded to the Canadian pairs team.
used in a mob investigation captured a series of telephone calls between
Tokhtakhounov in Italy and unnamed conspirators during the games that
"lay out a pattern of conduct that connects those two events," U.S.
Attorney James Comey told a news conference.
investigators said they have in their possession recorded telephone
conversations between Tokhtakhounov and Marina Anissina, in which
he brags about being able to influence the outcome of competitions,
NBC News' Pete Williams reported. It is unclear when the conversation
was recorded or by which authorities.
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,"' Comey said.
Prosecutors said that 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 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.
Gougne later recanted but still was suspended, as was the head of
the French skating federation, Didier Gailhaguet. Neither returned
telephone messages seeking comment, but Le Gougne's Salt Lake City-based
lawyer, Erik Christiansen, said she "has no involvement and no knowledge
of this person or these allegations."
week after the pairs competition, the ice dancing team of 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."
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.
criminal complaint identified Tokhtakhounov as a "major figure in
international Eurasian Organized Crime."
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.
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."
court papers also contend he worked with "unnamed co-conspirators."
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.
official was not certain whether the ice dancer was one of the winning
complaint made clear 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, "We are going
to make your daughter an Olympic champion - even if she falls, we
will make sure she is number one."
officials were stunned by the allegations.
Ward, head of the U.S. Olympic Committee, said the organization was
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."
Coburn, head of Skate Canada, added, "The severity of these allegations
the pairs competition, ice dancing was a point of controversy at the
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
Lithuanians said they didn't expect to win their appeal but came forward
to generate publicity and expose judging inconsistencies.
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."'
Pete Williams and Associated Press Writer Christopher Newton in Washington
contributed to this report.