News from August 2002

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Uzbek 'Fixer' Said to Be Shadowy Figure
By Gennady Fyodorov - -
August 1, 2002

The Uzbek arrested on charges of fixing Olympic figure skating results at the Salt Lake City Winter Games is a shadowy figure said by Italian police to have been long involved in post-Soviet organized crime.

Italian police, who arrested Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov at his seaside home, bluntly described him as "a senior member of a money-laundering group comprising of mostly non-Italians."

But a former Russian police chief dismissed him as no more than a "card shark" while a senior Moscow police officer said he had no information on any untoward dealings by Tokhtakhounov.

Russian sports officials said they had nothing to do with the man known as "Taivanchik" or "the Taiwanese" in various circles and deny he had any connection with alleged fixing at Salt Lake although they acknowledge his far-reaching influence on Russian sports.

The 53-year-old Tokhtakhounov was born in the ex-Soviet republic of Uzbekistan in Central Asia and also holds French and Israeli passports.

His name is closely associated with the most illustrious of athletes from the former Soviet Union.

Italian police found registration papers, signed by Ukrainian tennis player Andrei Medvedev, who lives in Monte Carlo, authorising Tokhtakhounov to drive his new Mercedes.

"It's a sign of respect (by Medvedev)," police said.

The Italians also said that he acted as an agent for Russian international goalkeeper Ruslan Nigmatullin as he arranged his free transfer from Lokomotiv Moscow to Italian club Verona earlier this year.

However, the president of Russian premier league soccer club CSKA Moscow, who signed Nigmatullin on loan from Verona, said he had no dealings with Tokhtakhounov.

"No, we were dealing with an Italian agent representing the player in the negotiations," Yevgeny Giner told Reuters. "We have never come across this name in any of our dealings before."

Media linked Tokhtakhounov to Russian ice hockey star Pavel Bure, who plays for the New York Rangers of the National Hockey League. Television footage showed the two men socialising in various encounters.


But Vladimir Rushailo, former Russian Interior Ministry responsible for the police, said Tokhtakhounov's reputation was greatly exaggerated.

"He is being touted as a godfather, but he is a faked mafia boss," Rushailo told Russian television recently.

"In reality, he is no more than a card shark, who used to bilk money out of visitors in Sochi," he said, referring to a popular Black Sea resort.

But according to Italian police, Tokhtakhounov, who was under surveillance for over a year, owned two casinos in Moscow, had free access to cash and moved from country to country with ease.

They said his group laundered over $50 million through various cites in Italy, the Cayman Islands and the United States. Money was raised through prostitution, drug trafficking, extortion and other offences.

Russia's NTV television said Tokhtakhounov had been in and out of prison in the Communist era. He was first sentenced by a Moscow court in 1972 and in Sochi at the beginning of the 1980s.

"In the perestroika era, he transformed himself from a black market dealer into a large-scale businessman," NTV said.

While carefully distancing themselves from him, Russian Olympic officials also acknowledged he had provided considerable financial assistance -- to both athletes and entertainers.

"He is a really tremendous, sociable guy -- tough and strong-willed," said Gennady Shvets, spokesman for the Russian Olympic Committee.

"He was involved in sports and show business. He often helped people with money."

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NHL player Bure knows dealings of Russian mobsters
by John Dellapina - - New York Daily News
August 3, 2002

In the days following Wednesday's unsealing of a criminal complaint in Manhattan Federal Court charging a reputed Russian mobster with attempting to fix two Olympic skating competitions, three Russian-born gold medal skaters threatened lawsuits against American TV networks who had reported the news.

They should have talked to Pavel Bure.

Perhaps then French ice dancer Marina Anissina and pairs partners Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze would have reacted differently to reports linking them to alleged organized crime boss Alimzan Tokhtakhounov.

Bure, in contrast to the skaters, is an old hand at answering questions about the Russian mafia, having explained his associations with reputed Russian mobsters since he entered the NHL in 1991. The Rangers winger threatens no lawsuits and feigns no shock.

His most notable discussion of the mob came in a PBS "Frontline" report focusing on the Russian mafia's links to Russian-born NHL players. In that interview, and others, he adopted a posture of frustrated helplessness to claims he says have no merit.

"There's a lot of confusion about who is what, particularly after the collapse of communism," Bure's Ontario-based agent Mike Gillis told the Daily News on Saturday, "and there's nothing we can do about it. I've talked to Pav about it and told him to deal with it and hope the stories stop."

Bure, who is in Moscow and did not return calls to his cell phone on Saturday, has acknowledged relationships with individuals whom international law enforcement officials identify as members of Russia's organized crime syndicates. Among the most notable is Anzor Kikalishvili, an alleged Russian mobster whom Bure calls a friend.

Kikalishvili ran a sports marketing company in Russia called The 21st Century Association that law enforcement officials claimed was a front for illegal activities. Though Bure was pictured next to Kikalishvili on a Russian billboard for the company, he claimed to have no business relationship with it.

"There's no projects at all, that's most important," Bure told "Frontline" in 1999. "And yes, (Kikalishvili) is my friend, and I really like him as a man."

Gillis says that connecting past ties between Russian hockey players and those now reputed to be mobsters fails to take into account the ever-changing face of the former Soviet Union.

"A number of people, subsequent to the fall of communism in Russia, have been called mobsters," Gillis says. "Whether they were KGB or IOC before, they are now painted with the brush of being members of the Russian mafia.

"KGB people routinely traveled with Russian teams in the `80s and they're now accused of being mafia guys. And the players are unfortunately being painted with that same brush.

"My answer - and I've talked to Pavel about it - is that one day they're KGB, the next day they're mafia, the next day they're Communist Party. Pavel says, `What am I supposed to do? All I can say is that I've never done anything like that.' "

Bure's name came up in loose connection with this latest figure-skating scandal because the Russian Rocket was one of the guests (along with Anissina) at a 1999 gala in Paris at which Tokhtakhounov was anointed a knight in the Order of St. Constantine for "self-sacrifice, chivalry and philanthropy" toward Russians.

Says Gillis: "I have never heard of (Tokhtakhounov). There's some point where errors in the newspaper and photos taken at an awards dinner two years ago have to be chalked up to unfortunate circumstances."

Tokhtakhounov has been described as being close to several athletes. He recently contributed money to the Russian national tennis, soccer and track and field teams. A 1999 photograph on Ukranian player Andrei Medvedev's Web site pictures him with Medvedev and Russian stars Safin and Yevgeny Kafelnikov, although it was taken down last week.

"A lot of people want to take photographs with these guys," Gillis says of stars like his client.

Bure certainly is not alone among Russian-born NHLers linked to figures involved in organized crime in Russia.

Former Devils defenseman Slava Fetisov, perhaps the most revered player in Russian history and now the head of the country's ice hockey federation, has been connected with Vyacheslav Ivankov, reputed head of the Russian mob in North America. Fetisov has denied having any business relationship with Ivankov.

While Bure, Fetisov and many other Russian players are practiced in the art of dealing with shocking allegations involving the mob, Annisina clearly is not.

"I categorically denounce all the slanderous, unjust and disgraceful allegations that were made against me," she said after the arrest of Tokhtakhounov. "Gwendal (Peizerat, her partner) and myself never needed anybody to help us win our gold medal in Salt Lake City."

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Major mobster or petty criminal?
- - The Miami Herald
August 6, 2002

Russian sports officials say Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, the alleged Russian mobster arrested on suspicion of trying to fix Olympic figure skating results, is nothing more than a card shark, petty criminal and braggart. They say it is ''out of the question'' he had the clout to pull off a vote-swapping deal at the Salt Lake City Olympics.

A decade of press reports and a recently purged Internet photo paint a different picture.

In newspapers from Moscow to London to New York, Tokhtakhounov has been portrayed as a major crime kingpin and a mover and shaker in the Russian sports world. The 53-year-old has been accused of selling illegal arms in the Middle East and has hobnobbed with tennis players Andrei Medvedev, Marat Safin and Yevgeny Kafelnikov; NHL All-Star and former Florida Panther Pavel Bure; Russian national soccer team goalkeeper Ruslan Nigmatullin; and French ice dancer Marina Anissina, the Russia-born Olympic gold medalist named in the criminal report as a beneficiary of Tokhtakhounov's attempted fix.

When he was arrested last week in Italy, Tokhtakhounov was driving a Mercedes 5000 given to him by Medvedev of Ukraine. Italian police said authorities have a document signed by Medvedev confirming he gave Tokhtakhounov the car out of gratitude for help with his career. Medvedev's official website featured a 1999 photograph of Tokhtakhounov with his arms around Medvedev, Safin and Kafelnikov. The photo was removed sometime last Thursday.

Tokhtakhounov is a fixture at the French Open and other major tennis tournaments around France. One of his close friends is Shamil Tarpishchev, head of the Russian Tennis Federation and former private coach for president Boris Yeltsin.

''He [Tokhtakhounov] is a good friend of mine, but I'd rather talk about tennis right now,'' Kafelnikov said last week in Toronto. ``I'm sure this arrest is some kind of mistake.''

Safin politely declined comment about Tokhtakhounov, admitting he knew him, but not wanting to say more.

Tennis cover girl Anna Kournikova, asked by reporters in San Diego last week whether she knew him, replied: ''I have heard of this guy, but I don't think I should be talking about this. I'm sorry. I'm Russian. I have to go back there.'' Pressed, and asked if he was a mobster, she said, ``You could put it that way.''

In 1999, a lavish party was thrown in Paris to celebrate Tokhtakhounov's induction into the knighthood of the international order of St. Constantine, for his ''self-sacrifice, chivalry and philanthropy.'' Among the guests: Bure, Anissina, Russian Olympic Committee vice president Aleksandr Kozlovski; and Russian singer Iosif Kobzon, who has been linked to the Russian mafia.

Bure is traveling in Europe and has been unavailable for comment since Tokhtakhounov's arrest. Anissina admitted Monday she spoke with the suspect ''from time to time'' since meeting him in 1999, but scoffed at the suggestion her acquaintance with him had anything to do with the gold medal she won with her partner, Gwendal Peizerat.

Tokhtakhounov, who spent most of the 1990s in France, is accused of trying to cozy up to French officials and secure a French visa by pressuring Olympic skating judges to award the ice dancing gold medal to the French couple. He allegedly tried to rig a deal whereby the French would win dance in exchange for Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze winning pairs.

His lawyer says he will plead not guilty.

''It's a ridiculous affair,'' Anissina said, as Peizerat stood by her in a ''Not Guilty'' T-shirt. ``I've only seen things like this in American movies.''

U.S. attorney James Comey said the case, based on wiretaps, indicates a ``classic quid pro quo. You line up support for the Russian pair, we'll line up support for the French pair and everyone will go away with the gold, and perhaps there will be a little gold for me.''

French judge Marie-Reine LeGougne initially said she was pressured to vote for the Russian pair, whose victory over Canadians Jamie Salé and David Pelletier caused an international uproar. She later recanted her statement. She said last week she has never heard of, met, seen or spoken to Tokhtakhounov.

Didier Gailhaguet, head of the French Skating Federation, said Monday that French authorities had cautioned him against getting to know Tokhtakhounov, who approached him in 2000 about financing a Paris hockey team. Gailhaguet said Tokhtakhounov's secretary called him a few weeks after their meeting asking for his help in obtaining a visa. He contacted authorities and they advised him to sever ties.

Tokhtakhounov, better known in Russia by his nickname, Taivanchik (Little Taiwanese, given to him because of his Asian appearance), was born in Uzbekistan to a pair of doctors.

He moved to Moscow in 1962, and began running in sports and entertainment circles, making a living as a professional card player. He was arrested for petty crimes in the 1970s and 1980s, and branded a ''thief within the law,'' a euphemism for mobster. After the fall of the Soviet Union, he was implicated in serious crimes ranging from arms dealing to drug trafficking and antique smuggling.

He left Russia around 1990, and bounced between Germany, France and Italy. Tokhtakhounov remains a Russian citizen, but also has passports from Uzbekistan, France, Israel and Germany. In 1994, he was questioned by French police after Russian socialite Sergei Majarov was gunned down in Paris.

In 1999, he moved to Italy.

Italian police said Tokhtakhounov was involved in a large money laundering ring through the Cayman Islands. ''He is not the chief of the group, but we believe he's near the top,'' said police spokesman Giovanni Mainolfi.

Russian Olympic Committee spokesman Gennady Shvets doubts the tales of Tokhtakhounov's crimes. ''He has a delusion of grandeur,'' Shvets said. 'He could pick up a phone and tell his friends something like, `I arranged with the judges for two medals for our guys and made sure the Canadians would come in second.' ''

Major mobster or blowhard? Time will tell.

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Fetisov recruits hockey greats for his finale
- - The Russia Journal
August 7, 2002

Former Russian hockey great Viacheslav Fetisov, currently an assistant coach for the New Jersey Devils, will bring other NHL stars to Moscow’s Olympic sport complex Aug. 25 for an exhibition game that will allow him to close out his playing career on the home ice.

The match will be Fetisov’s second farewell game. The 42-year-old ended his playing career in 1998 with the Detroit Red Wings, after helping the team win the 1997 Stanley Cup, and joined the Devils as an assistant. The two-time Olympic gold medalist was the first Soviet hockey star to play in the NHL, joining the Devils in 1989.

Fetisov’s desire to play his last game at home has been supported by top-level government officials and businessmen in the light of the failure of the Russian team at the World Ice Hockey Championship in May. Many considered the loss in St. Petersburg a national disgrace and urged the government to take steps to revive the former glory of Soviet hockey – which ranked next to missiles and spaceships as a source of pride during the communist era.

The Aug. 25 game – which will pit Russian stars "against the rest of the world" – will be the highlight of a week of activities surrounding the players’ visit to Moscow. Also scheduled are Russian and foreign pop shows and a beauty contest. Visiting players will attend lunches with President Vladimir Putin, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and Patriarch Alexii II.

Fetisov said that hockey stars Pavel Bure and Igor Ilarionov have accepted invitations, and he expects positive responses from Jaromir Jagr and Dominick Hasek. "Summer is vacation time, and it’s difficult to contact players," he said. But he added that the expected 17,000-strong crowd at the Olympic complex would witness "a unique game in history."

Revenues from the events will aid former hockey players now suffering economic difficulties and support young hockey players, Fetisov said.

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Pavel Bure autographed jersey and great email address for you!
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Pavel Bure at Russian soccer final
August 25, 2002

Pavel Bure and and the President of the Republic of Kalmykia, Kirsan Ilumzhinov, were the officials who presided today at the start of the Russian championship soccer final game between Uralamon and Spartak.

After some speeches, there was an exchange of gifts, with Pavel presenting the president a NYR sweater with his name and number on it.

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Panthers shop Bure
by Eric Francis - - Calgary Sun
August 27, 2002

Val Bure's fall from grace continues. Just two-and-a-half years after earning an all-star appearance with a 35-goal season in Calgary, the diminutive winger has again fallen out of favour with his employer.

Sun sources confirmed Florida Panthers GM Rick Dudley is currently shopping around the 28-year-old Russian with promises of paying up to half of the player's $2.9 million salary. Bure is also under contract to make $3.1 million in 2003-04.

It marks the second time in as many years Bure has prompted management to seek a trade.

Following his breakthrough 75-point season in 1999-2000 when the shifty speedster became a 'Dome favourite, Bure clashed with head coach Don Hay over his work ethic and style of play. Teammates also grew tired of Bure's attitude and disregard for his own end, prompting GM Craig Button to ship Bure and Jason Wiemer to Florida for Rob Niedermayer and a second rounder.

Reuniting Bure with brother Pavel didn't work all that well last year as Valeri had eight goals and 10 assists in 31 games and missed the bulk of the season with a knee injury.

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Lidstrom named best player in the NHL
- - Canadian Press
August 27, 2002

Detroit defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom is the best player in the NHL, says The Hockey News.

In listing the top 50 players in its pre-season yearbook, the magazine's Mike Brophy puts Lidstrom at the top of the class.

"The 32-year-old Red Wing is the complete package, an intelligent defender who blends speed, finesse, consistency and, best of all, he plays a clean game (don't mistake him for soft you'd be dead wrong)," writes Brophy.

The top 10, with last year's rating in parenthesis: 1. Lidstrom (5), 2. Peter Forsberg (4), 3. Joe Sakic (2), 4. Jaromir Jagr (1), 5. Mario Lemieux (3), 6. Rob Blake (12), 7. Chris Pronger (6), 8. Paul Kariya (8), 9. Mats Sundin (22), 10. Markus Naslund (45).

Not among the top 50 last year but prominent this time are Jarome Iginla at 13, Jose Theodore at 14, and Todd Bertuzzi at 17.

Pavel Bure dropped to 24 from 10, Eric Lindros to 30 from 21, Curtis Joseph to 50 from 19.

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GM dismisses Bure trade talk as `ludicrous'
by Michael Russo - - Sun-Sentinel
August 28, 2002

General Manager Rick Dudley called reports that Valeri Bure is on the trading block and that he is willing to eat up to half of Bure's salary "ludicrous."

Bure, coming off an injury-ruined first season with the Panthers, is to make $2.9 million this season and $3.1 million the next.
Still, the GM acknowledged that he has gotten some calls on Bure and that anybody can be traded for the right price.

"We haven't done anything substantive with Valeri Bure," Dudley said. "A couple teams have called about Val, but I haven't heard anything that would induce us to trade him. And quite honestly, we expect big things from Val this year."

Last season, after holding out, Bure hurt his knee in camp.

He played through it until it was discovered that he had torn his meniscus after the sixth game in Vancouver. Surgery caused him to miss 37 games; he returned in January.

Bure played 25 games in a row but admitted in February that his knee was still bothering him. He reinjured it in mid-March and had season-ending surgery.

During those 25 games though, he showed glimpses of the talented player the Panthers thought they had acquired when they sent Rob Niedermayer to Calgary for Bure and Jason Wiemer.

However, two years ago, the market for Bure was essentially Chicago and Florida. Now that the Blackhawks have signed Theo Fleury and Bure is coming off an 18-point season in 31 games, Bure's value is at an all-time low.

So if the Panthers were to entertain trading Bure, they'd probably want him to start the season with the team. This way, if he gets off to a solid start, he would significantly improve his value.

It's believed one of the teams that have called about Bure is the New York Islanders.

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Isles Looking At 'Other' Bure
by Alan Hahn - - Newdsday
August 28, 2002

When Pavel Bure left Florida after being traded to the Rangers late last season, his younger brother and teammate Valeri bid adieu with these words: "Get me to New York!" Valeri Bure might get his wish, as the Panthers are reportedly shopping the 28-year-old right wing. One team with mild interest is the Islanders, who have a hole to fill at right wing on their No. 1 line after Mariusz Czerkawski was traded in June.

Panthers general manager Rick Dudley called "ludicrous" reports he was willing to eat half of the player's $2.9-million salary this season.

"A couple of teams have called about Val," Dudley said, "but I haven't heard anything that would induce us to trade him." The Islanders could get Bure cheap, but at a risk. The big plus is Bure's speed and scoring ability - he had a career-best 35 goals and 75 points for Calgary in 1999-2000. The big minus is the 5-10, 168-pound winger's reputation as a lazy player who has little interest in defense.

Bure was traded from Calgary to Florida in June 2001 and the Panthers hoped uniting him with his older brother, Pavel, would give both a spark. But Valeri appeared in only 31 games because of injury.

A move to Long Island might suit Bure, considering he'd again be near his brother. His wife, actress Candace Cameron, is from Long Island. But Bure, like the ousted Czerkawski, needs the puck to be effective, which doesn't work when playing with center Alexei Yashin. As it stands now, the Islanders head into training camp with Oleg Kvasha and rookie Trent Hunter penciled in as Yashin's wingers on the top line.

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