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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hockey Star Denies Mafia Links

A day after President Boris Yeltsin decorated him for his services to Russian sport, hockey star Pavel Bure blasted the U.S. media for what he claims are its unfair attempts to link him to the Russian mafia.

Bure, who captained the Russian hockey team to a silver medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, flew in to Moscow this week to pick up the Order of Honor.

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, movie director Nikita Mikhalkov and ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, also collected awards at the Kremlin ceremony Tuesday.

But at a news conference Wednesday, Bure was more concerned with clearing his name after a series of media reports that he is connected to Russian organized crime.

"The worst thing for me in this whole affair is trying to deny something I have never done nor been associated with," said Bure, who plays with the National Hockey League's Vancouver Canucks and is nicknamed the Russian Rocket.

Bure was flanked at the news conference by his friend Anzori Arsentyev, previously known as Anzori Kikalishvili. In 1995, FBI Deputy Director James Mowdy named the businessman, together with singer Iosif Kobzon, as a head of Russian mafia groups operating in North America.

Bure added: "It's very easy for people to print all sorts of totally unfounded rumors about myself, but it's very difficult for me or for anyone else for that matter, trying to clear your name after such false information. It's like trying to wash yourself off from all this dirt."

The star's outburst was prompted by an article in the May issue of U.S. magazine Details, owned by the Conde Nast publishing conglomerate, which suggested Bure and several other top Russian hockey players have mafia links.

Bure said he was considering suing the publication for libel. The article employed the same unsubstantiated innuendo against him as a report aired almost two years ago by U.S. cable television network ESPN, he told journalists.

"What they [ESPN] did in their film about Russian mafia was they showed blown up Mercedes and dead bodies, then showed my picture," Bure said. "Now Details is using the same method like saying Bure, [Vyacheslav] Fetisov or [Valery] Kamensky may or may not know people who have mafia ties. Just like that. But after reading such stuff, of course, people will associate us with mafia even without proving any of their allegations against us. It's that easy."

Arsentyev went even further, saying the U.S. media had an ulterior motive in portraying Bure as a mafia figure.

"There are particular circles, special interest groups in the United States, who are constantly trying to mess up our relations and therefore accuse many of our well-known public figures, like Mayor Yury Luzhkov, Iosif Kobzon, Pavel Bure and others, of ties with the mafia for their own political interests," said Arsentyev, former president of the 21st Century sports promotion firm who now heads the Russian People's Party.