An alleged Russian mob boss was arrested and charged with plotting to fix the ice-dancing and pairs figure-skating competitions in the 2002 Winter Olympics, federal prosecutors said today.
According to a criminal complaint unsealed by the U.S. attorney in New York, Alimzan Tokhtakhounov played a key role in one of the biggest judging scandals in Olympics history and allegedly tried to influence the votes of ice skating judges at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, including French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne. Le Gougne was at the center of the controversy over the pairs figure-skating competition, in which two couples ended up being awarded gold medals.
Prosecutors said Tokhtakhounov, who was arrested in Italy today, conspired with Russian skating officials to persuade Le Gougne to vote for the Russian figure-skating team of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze. In exchange, the complaint said, Tokhtakhounov tried to line up votes for the French ice-dancing pair, Russian-born Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat of France. The French duo won the gold medal in ice dancing amid controversy.
Prosecutors said Tokhtakhounov hoped French officials would reward him with a visa to return to France, where he once lived.
"He 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, the Russian organized crime figure,'" U.S. Attorney James Comey said at a news conference today.
Le Gougne sparked controversy when she cast the vote that enabled Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze to win the gold medal over figure skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier after what many observers believed what a flawless performance by the Canadian couple.
Sale and Pelletier were later given duplicate gold medals.
At first, Le Gougne said she had been pressured to voting for the Russians by a French skating official in an alleged vote-swapping deal to ensure a victory in ice dancing for Anissina and Peizerat. However, she recanted that story and then insisted she had voted honestly and with her conscience.
‘We Will Make Sure She Is Number One’
Federal prosecutors said they had wire-tapped phone conversations in which they caught Tokhtakhounov speaking before the ice-dancing finals to a woman identified as the mother of "a female member of the French ice-dancing team born in the former Soviet Union." According to court papers, Tokhtakhounov told her that "we are going to make [your daughter] an Olympic champion. … Even if she falls, we will make sure she is number one."
After the Olympics, the female ice dancer herself called Tokhtakhounov to discuss the outcome, the complaint said. She allegedly told him she could have won without his help, saying the Russians "did not put us in first place."
Tokhtakhounov is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit bribery relating to sporting contests. If convicted, he could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count. He remains in custody in Italy, and U.S. prosecutors said they would seek his extradition.
Investigators also believe Tokhtakhounov is linked to drug distribution, illegal arms sales and trafficking in stolen vehicles.
Federal prosecutors said there could be more arrests in the Winter Olympics scandal investigation.
"We are aggressively continuing this investigation," Comey said. "Authorities working with the FBI around the world are pursuing leads for us on this."
ABCNEWS Radio's Tim Scheld contributed to this report.