VENICE, Italy – The reputed Russian mobster charged with fixing two Olympic figure skating contests is on tape saying six judges may be involved, Italian police said Thursday as they released details from their investigation of the worst judging scandal in Olympics history.
The information emerged a day after an Italian organized-crime unit arrested Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov in Venice on U.S. conspiracy charges.
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, according to a criminal complaint filed in Manhattan federal court. Both teams won gold.
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, nor were any of the judges or other people who might have been involved in the scheme.
"We have recorded a conversation in which the suspect indicates that six judges may have been involved," police Col. Giovanni Mainolfi said. "However, we have no specific evidence against these judges at this time."
Nine judges vote on each of the figure skating events.
Wiretaps used in an organized crime investigation captured a series of telephone calls between Tokhtakhounov in Italy and unnamed co-conspirators during the games.
Tokhtakhounov was expected to plead innocent to all charges and fight extradition, said his lawyer, Luca Salvarelli, who had not yet met with his client. "According to what his relatives told me, he will deny any wrongdoing," the lawyer said.
The judging scandal in the pairs skating resulted in a duplicate set of gold medals being awarded to the Canadian team that finished second to the Russians.
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. However, the Russian judge, Alla Shekhovtsova, voted for the second-place Russians not the French team, indicating that the scheme wasn't carried out the way prosecutors believe it was planned.
"Everybody wants to claim a part of our victory at the Olympic Games for themselves," Peizerat told The Associated Press. "The judges think it's thanks to them that we're Olympic champions, top skating officials do too, now it's the Russian mafia."
In exchange for fixing the events, U.S. prosecutors say, the reputed mobster wanted a visa to return to France, where he once lived.
International Skating Union president Ottavio Cinquanta said Thursday he first learned of the alleged conspiracy on the news and had never heard of Tokhtakhounov.
Asked whether the ISU could be forced to cancel or review the Salt Lake City results, Cinquanta said, "I don't think so. I don't know."
Russian sports officials derided the accusations Thursday. Olympic Committee spokesman Gennady Shvets called the accusations a "funny fantasy" that belonged in a Hollywood film script.
Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze won the gold medal by the smallest 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 flawless.
Le Gougne later recanted but still was suspended, as was Didier Gailhaguet, the head of the French skating federation.
"I don't know this man, I have no contact with him," Le Gougne told The Associated Press on Thursday, referring to Tokhtakhounov. "This affair doesn't concern me."
She said she never had any contact with any Russian in deciding whom to vote for in the pairs competition. "For me, the Russians were the best," she said.
International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said: "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."
Italian police said Tokhtakhounov had a phone conversation with a French man, identified on the tape as "Chevalier," after the Russians won gold in pairs.
"Everything will go well now because the French, with their vote, have made them champions," Chevalier said, according to the transcript. "It happened, it happened. Even if the Canadians are 10 times better, the French with their vote have given them first place."
Other transcripts detail a conversation between Tokhtakhounov and a female ice dancer's mother. And after the Olympics, the female ice dancer called Tokhtakhounov and said she could have won without his help, according to the transcript. While Anissina was the ice dancer who won the gold, the papers didn't identify her as the woman on the phone.
Police say that during wiretaps in the Russian mafia investigation, they uncovered details of the alleged ice-skating fix, as well as ties to other sports figures.
Italian police gave few other details, but they did cite Ukrainian tennis player Andrei Medvedev, whose Web site featured a 1999 picture of himself with Tokhtakhounov, along with Russian tennis stars Marat Safin and Yevgeny Kafelnikov. That photo and two others with Tokhtakhounov were removed from the site Thursday.