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Prosecutors Charge Russian with Fixing Competition

Aired July 31, 2002 - 14:26   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Now live to New York, where federal prosecutors have charged a Russian man with acting -- or rather with trying to fix the figure skating and ice dancing competition in 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games.
Let's listen in.


JAMES COMEY, U.S. ATTY. FOR SOUTHERN DISTRICT: ... and the two prosecutors from my office in charge of the case. The deputy chief of my organized crime and terrorism unit Bob Bueller (ph) and Edward O'Callahan, an assistant United States attorney.

We're here this morning to announce the arrest -- excuse me -- this afternoon to announce the arrest this morning by Italian authorities, specifically the Guardian Definanza (ph) of Alimzham Tokhtakhounov, an alleged member of organized crime. That arrest was pursuant was to a complaint that was unsealed earlier today, issued here in the southern district of New York.

That complaint alleges that the long arm of Russian organized crime reached across the globe this past February and into Salt Lake City with a pair of fixes for the Winter Olympics.

Specifically, the complaint alleges that the defendant and other members of organized crime and other conspirators arranged two fixes: one, in the pairs ice skating final. The fix in particular being they arranged for the French judge to support the Russian pair in the final of the ice skating pairs. And the second fix was closely related, an exchange for the support of the French judge for the Russian pair, the defendant and his cohorts arranged for the Russian federation to line up support for the French pair in the finals of the ice dancing competition.

This investigation on this particular aspect of this defendant's organized criminal activity was spearheaded by the Italian authorities in the Guardian Definanza (ph), specifically through wiretaps that they had in Italy, they uncovered this evidence and shared it with the FBI and the organized crime task force in New York. I can't say enough about their efforts in this regard.

This defendant was of keen interest to the FBI in our office because of his alleged involvement in organized crime, and the corporation of the Italian authorities let to uncovering of this international scheme to fix and to arrange through bribery to fix the Olympics in Salt Lake City. What I would like to turn the podium over to Greg Jones the acting assistant director in charge of the FBI's New York field office, have a few remarks, and then I'll take your questions.

GREGORY JONES, ACTING ASST. DIR., N.Y. FBI: I see this podium is not really designed for those that aren't as tall as tall as Mr. Comey is. But let me join Jim in recognizing the fine efforts of not only the investigators, but the FBI and our task force here in New York City on working very diligently with Asian -- organized crime elements internationally, but also our partners in the New York Police Department as well.

This case was developed largely by the FBI in its work -- working with the Italian authorities. We have a long established Italian- American working group with the Italian authorities over the past 20 years, and the fruits of this case and why we're here today is largely represented here by that relationship by the working group, by those investigators, who on a daily basis, exchange investigative -- and pursue investigative avenues. This case is basically another example of how organized crime, once they get their tentacles in you, go off to the races.

It's a very good example of how they dig in corrupting those around them, those issues as we see here in the Olympics as they came apart. I'm very appreciate of Jim Comey, the efforts of his office in bringing this -- announces this arrests, and as we move forward, this is an ongoing investigation. And as we move forward, we intend to bring others to the bar of justice, and certainly work toward closing this matter.

I thank you for -- having me here today, Jim.

COMEY: One thing I forget to add is we will be seeking defendant's extradition from Italy, where he is in custody, and I will take your questions.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Why is this being filed here? What offense took place here?

COMEY: You mean other than our long-standing interest in skating? All kidding aside, we have a very long standing interest and success in investigating and prosecuting Russian organized crime, which since the breakup of the Soviet Union is called Eurasian organized crime. And in particular, in this defendant, we have been investigating this defendant for a variety of other things for over a year. We meaning the U.S. attorney's office and the FBI's organized crime task force. So we have keen interest in this individual and his organization. That's why it's here.

QUESTION: what's the status of that investigation?

COMEY: I can't comment beyond the complaint. We did not identify anybody else by name, but as Mr. Jones said, we are aggressively continuing this investigation. Authorities working with the FBI around the world are pursuing leads for us on this. So we're not done yet, but I can't comment...

PHILLIPS: U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, James Comey, holding a new conference there in New York, talking about how federal prosecutors have charged a Russian man with trying to fix -- with trying to fix figure skating and ice dancing competitions at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics Games. Bit of a technical problem there, but I will recap you on what he was talking about. According to Comey, the suspect, Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, was an organized crime figure. He was arrested by Italian police, was assisted -- this is a picture of him right here. He was arrested in Italy today.

We are going bring in our Mark Lund with "International Figure Skating" magazine. He is also been following what -- this announcement out of New York. Mark, are you able to hear me OK?


PHILLIPS: All right. Let's talk about -- first of all, let's give viewers a little bit of history here. This is going back to the Olympics, the Russian team, the Canadian team. We can't forget what happened, and the fight that took place, the accusations about judges fixing this competition, and then it led to the unprecedented event that both teams received the gold medal.

LUND: Yes. You know, we all thought it was pretty much just a regular judge fixing situation with the French judge, but now we find it is much more than that. That organized crime was involved at the highest levels of our sport, and I have a feeling very strongly that not only the French Federation president, Didier Gailhaguet, also involved and perhaps be named in this continuing investigation, but also president Valentin Piseev of the Russian Figure Skating Federation as well.

PHILLIPS: So this basically, would you say, takes a lot of the pressure off those judges?

LUND: Oh, yes. It most certainly does. But what is even more disturbing, I find it hard to believe that the International Skating Union with its lists and lists of people it interviewed during the April hearings that something like this didn't come up. I find it hard to believe that whatever was involved in pressuring these people or paying these people off or whatever influences this person was charged today used, did not come to light at the April hearing.

PHILLIPS: Mark Lund, "International Figure Skating" magazine. Thanks Mark, for a little bit of insight there. Once again, if you are just tuning in, federal prosecutors have charged a Russian man, described as an organized crime member. This is a picture of him here. He was arrested in Italy. He has been tried -- or charged, rather, with trying to fix the figure skating and ice dancing competitions at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games. If you followed the Olympics, you will remember the controversy between the Russian and Canadian teams that both ended up getting the gold medal for that competition. Definitely takes a lot of pressure off the judges, as Mark was saying, about the judges being influenced. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT



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