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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Reputed Mobster Refuses to Go to U.S.

APAlimzhan Tokhtakhounov's lawyer Luca Saldarelli speaking to reporters after Tuesday's hearing.
VENICE, Italy -- Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, the reputed Russian mobster accused of helping to fix figure skating events at the Salt Lake City Olympics, told a judge Tuesday he will fight extradition to the United States, a battle that could drag on for weeks while the suspect remains in a prison here.

Tokhtakhounov "said no" when asked at a closed hearing if he would consent to extradition, Judge Giannicolo Rodighiero told reporters after the hourlong session in the canalside Santa Maria Maggiore Prison.

"I want to have the complete extradition procedure under Italian law," defense lawyer Luca Saldarelli quoted his client as saying.

By refusing voluntary extradition, Tokhtakhounov is guaranteed a series of legal procedures that could take weeks.

According to the judge and the suspect's lawyer, Rodighiero asked a series of formal questions regarding Tokhtakhounov's identity, and very little was mentioned regarding the U.S. accusations, laid on in a criminal complaint in U.S federal court, concerning the Olympics.

"He said he's absolutely not guilty of having anything to do with the Olympics," Saldarelli said, adding later, "He's just a rich man, like many American people."

The United States must file a request for extradition within 40 days of Tokhtakhounov's July 31 arrest. No U.S. demand had arrived by Tuesday, Rodighiero said.

"The judge explained the conditions of the New York court request to Mr. Tokhtakhounov," Saldarelli said. "Then the judge asked him if he would consent to the extradition process and he said: 'No, I want to have the complete procedure under the Italian law."

In addition, in Italy, within a few days of being arrested, a suspect must appear before a judge, who then decides whether to validate the Italian charges behind the arrest. The judge at Tuesday's hearings upheld the Italian charges of criminal association, corruption and fraud.

In the U.S. criminal court, Tokhtakhounov, 52, is accused of fixing the results of the pairs and ice dancing competitions at the Winter Olympics in February.

Italian police last week released excerpts of what they said were wiretapped conversations indicating Tokhtakhounov was busy trying to fix the events, which are among the Winter Games' most popular sports. The police said Tokhtakhounov may have contacted as many as six judges to help secure a gold medal for the Russians in the pairs competition in exchange for a victory by the French ice dancing team. Both teams won.

For Tuesday's hearing, Rodighiero, a judge assigned to Venice's criminal court, was ferried back and forth from the prison by motorboat.

When the defense lawyer showed up for the hearing, he entered the prison with a stack of Russian newspaper clippings from the past few days under his arm. He asked prison authorities if he could give the clips to Tokhtakhounov and was granted permission. "He hasn't read them yet," Saldarelli said. "But he saw the story on TV after his arrest."

Tokhtakhounov has been living in Italy in Rome and a Tuscan seaside villa for about two years. He was picked up by police at his home last Wednesday and brought to Venice where the arrest papers were formalized, Saldarelli said.

"He worked in international affairs," Saldarelli said. "That was a few years ago though. Now he's just a rich man, like many American people. And like many Russians now, too."

Last week, Italian police officials described Tokhtakhounov as a high-ranking member of the Moscow-based Solntsevo crime group.

Since his arrest, Russia's top two tennis players, Marat Safin and Yevgeny Kafelnikov, have admitted to knowing Tokhtakhounov. In France on Monday, Olympic ice dance champion Marina Anissina acknowledged that she had talked "from time to time" with Tokhtakhounov. She and partner Gwendal Peizerat won the event.

Anissina, who competes for France but is of Russian origin, insisted that knowing Tokhtakhounov had nothing to do with her winning the gold medal.

The French couple, along with the Russian pairs champions, Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, spoke at a news conference Monday to defend themselves against accusations contained in the U.S. criminal complaint indicating that their figure skating competitions were fixed.

"I think all the people involved in the Olympic affair have said they are innocent," Saldarelli said Tuesday. "My client said he doesn't know anything about this, so I must believe my client."

In Moscow, Valentin Piseyev, the head of the Russian Figure Skating Federation, said Tuesday he never had contact with Tokhtakhounov.

"I have never seen him, have never spoken to him, and I do not know anything about him except for the information that appeared in the Russian press," Piseyev told Ekho Moskvy radio, calling allegations of contacts between Tokhtakhounov and officials "sheer slander."