NEW YORK -- A reputed Russian mobster eager to win a French visa has been charged with fixing a pair of figure skating events in a scandal that tainted the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, prosecutors said.
Alimzan Tokhtakhounov, arrested Wednesday in Italy on U.S. conspiracy charges, is accused of scheming to persuade a French judge to vote for the Russian pairs team and a Russian judge to vote in turn for the French ice dancing team, according to a criminal complaint filed in Manhattan federal court. Both teams won gold.
Russian sports officials derided the accusations Thursday, with one calling the allegations a "funny fantasy" that belonged in a Hollywood film script, not a U.S. federal court affidavit.
Wiretaps 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 said.
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,"' Comey said.
Prosecutors said 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.
The judging flap, the biggest in Olympics history, resulted in a duplicate set of gold medals being awarded to the Canadian pairs team.
Le Gougne later recanted but still was suspended, as was Didier Gailhaguet, the head of the French skating federation.
International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said Thursday he was "appalled" at the alleged involvement of organized crime.
"While we knew from previous investigations that the judgment in the pairs figure skating was not correct, we are shocked to learn of the alleged involvement of organized crime," Rogge said.
But Russian Olympic Committee spokesman Gennady Shvets said the Russian pair won fairly and suggested the new allegations were part of an effort to justify the decision to ward a second gold. "Now this funny fantasy appears," he said.
"It is more like a cinematic subject, a synopsis of a film script," he added.
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 by a 5-4 split of the judges. Anissina was born in Russia.
Tokhtakhounov, arrested at a resort in northern Italy, was charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit bribery relating to sporting contests. U.S. prosecutors were seeking his extradition. He could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count if convicted.
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