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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Godfather' Of Sports Denies Link To Mafia

The man who sat close enough to Hillary Clinton to chat during the opening ceremony of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer has hotly denied FBI accusations that he leads a Russian mafia group working in the United States and that he links one of North America's top ice-hockey stars to the mob.


"The FBI called us the grouping that controls New York City," Anzori Kikalishvili said during an interview at his posh office overlooking the Kremlin from the top of the Intourist Hotel.


In the interview, he denied all the FBI charges and ascribed them to anti-Russian prejudice in the U.S. establishment.


The FBI put Kikalishvili on a "black list" in 1995, and last summer FBI Deputy Director James Mowdy in a Komsomolskaya Pravda interview named the Russian businessman, together with singer Iosif Kobzon, as a head of Russian organized crime groups that operate in the United States.


Last week, the American cable television channel ESPN added to Kikalishvili's woes by broadcasting a documentary in which he was named as the mafia link to Vancouver Canucks superstar Pavel Bure -- a charge both Bure and Kikalishvili denied.


Kikalishvili said the FBI added him to its "black list" after he led a campaign in support of Kobzon, who the FBI had accused of having links to organized crime and who was subsequently denied a U.S. visa.


"Kobzon is one of Russia's most famous entertainers, and to accuse him of ties to the mafia without any proof means putting down our entire country and Russian people," said Kikalishvili, who is president of Century 21, a nonprofit organization that provides legal services to its members in international and domestic markets.


"It's like accusing Frank Sinatra of having mob connections," he said, fully aware of the fact that Sinatra was rumored to have had mafia links -- but was never charged.


Kikalishvili has previously visited America on numerous occasions, including his trip to Los Angeles to watch the 1994 World Cup soccer final in the VIP box along with Vice President Al Gore and former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.


But in 1995, he was pronounced "persona non grata" in the United States.


Kikalishvili wrote an open letter to President Bill Clinton a few months ago, in which he warned the U.S. leader of "an existence of hysteria against Russia among certain groups in American society who try to increase tensions between the two great nations."


Kikalishvili said the latest public outburst had prompted an immediate response in the United States, referring to the ESPN documentary.


"These [the ESPN charges] are the most ludicrous things I have ever heard," said Bure, who is listed as a vice president of sports in Century 21 and helps promote various fund-rasing events. "Everyone on our team is laughing about it."


"There is an obvious pattern in all these allegations because famous people attract the American viewers and make high TV ratings," Kikalishvili said. "First Kobzon, now Bure, who's going to be next? [Mayor Yury] Luzhkov, [General Boris] Gromov?"


Kikalishvili thinks Bure was targeted for several reasons, ranging from an attempt to sabotage the hockey player's new business making name-brand Pavel Bure watches to anti-Russian sentiment.


"First of all, the king's throne in the NHL will be vacated soon. Wayne Gretzky is near retirement, Mario Lemieux's career also is coming to an end with sickness and injuries," he said. "Who should be the next hockey king? The answer is clear. Bure is the crown prince, and obviously some people don't want a Russian to take the throne."


Kikalishvili also vigorously denied the FBI allegations that he was linked to Vyacheslav Ivankov, nicknamed "The Japanese," a reputed Russian mafia chief who was tried and convicted earlier this year in New York.


"I've never met 'Yaponchik' nor anyone else for that matter," said Kikalishvili, who was named president of the International Union of Winemakers recently, the first such honor for the Russian.


"I have never been associated with any members of organized crime whatsoever."


Kikalishvili, who was born in Georgia but lived all his life in Moscow, became well-known in Russian sports circles when he started the All-Russian Boxing Association in 1989, the first professional sports organization in the former Soviet Union.


"I can be called the godfather of Russian professional sports," he said, "but not the godfather of Russian mafia."