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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Two Different Takes on Tokhtakhounov

APItalian police talking to reporters Thursday in Mestre about Tokhtakhounov's arrest.
Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, the alleged Russian crime boss arrested on suspicion of trying to fix Olympics skating competitions, has no influence over Russian sports and could not have fixed the Olympic results, Russian officials said Thursday.

However, a decade of local press reports paint a different picture. He is portrayed as a high-flying socialite who has hobnobbed with the likes of Marat Safin, Pavel Bure and even Marina Anissina, the figure skater named in the U.S. criminal complaint.

Tokhtakhounov, who is better known in Russia by his nickname Taivanchik (Little Taiwanese), given to him for his Asiatic appearance, has also been linked to everything from dubious arms sales to associating with former President Boris Yeltsin's chief bodyguard Alexander Korzhakov, Yeltsin's tennis coach and Lev Chernoi, the metals magnate whom the Interior Ministry has linked to organized crime.

U.S. prosecutors are accusing Tokhtakhounov of being involved in "drug distribution, illegal arms sales and trafficking in stolen vehicles," according to their complaint filed Wednesday. He could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count if convicted.

Prosecutors said he tried to fix the skating competitions because he hoped to be rewarded a visa to return to France, where he once lived.

However, Italian police said Thursday that he already had French citizenship, as well as Israeli, German and Uzbek passports, The Associated Press reported. They described him as a senior member of a Moscow-based crime organization with about 3,000 members.

The U.S. complaint identified Tokhtakhounov as a "major figure in international Eurasian organized crime."

Leonid Tyagachyov, the head of the Russian Olympic Committee, told TVS television that it "was out of the question" that Tokhtakhounov could have influenced the results in Salt Lake City in February.

Russian Olympic Committee spokesman Gennady Shvets said Tokhtakhounov has no pull in the committee.

"Tyagachyov told me that he knew of Tokhtakhounov, but he never met him," Shvets was quoted by Interfax as saying. "The president of the [Russian] Ice Skating Federation, Valentin Piseyev, also has never had contact with the man."

Telephone calls to Piseyev's office went unanswered Thursday.

However, Shvets conceded that Tokhtakhounov is not a stranger in the world of sports celebrities.

He told the AP that Tokhtakhounov often spent time with Russian tennis players. A 1999 photograph on Ukrainian player Andrei Medvedev's web site pictures him with Medvedev and Russian stars Safin and Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

Tokhtakhounov, second from right, with Safin, Medvedev and Kafelnikov in 1999.

Celebrities seem to be a weakness of Tokhtakhounov's, a 53-year-old native of Uzbekistan. Reports about his warm friendship with singers Alla Pugachyova, Iosif Kobzon and Sofia Rotaru are plentiful in the local press.

"Taivanchik may be mafia to somebody else, but he is a little brother to me," Kobzon's wife, Ninel, told Profil magazine in 1999.

Tokhtakhounov was also a classmate and friend of Chernoi, according to press reports.

This is his story as told by local media:

Tokhtakhounov began his career as a professional card player and was twice convicted for petty crimes in the 1970s. In the late 1970s he moved from Uzbekistan to Moscow.

A decade later, Tokhtakhounov left Russia along with a dozen other alleged crime bosses (such as Vyacheslav Ivankov, also known as Yaponchik, or Little Japanese, who was convicted in the United States of racketeering in 1997) and formed what the world now calls the Russian mafia, according to organized crime expert Simon Mag.

Initially, Tokhtakhounov settled in Germany, where he reportedly participated in selling arms left by Russian troops to Middle Eastern countries.

In the early 1990s, Korzhakov, Yeltsin's chief bodyguard and a close confidant, introduced him to Shamil Tarpishchev, Novaya Gazeta reported in 1996, citing Boris Fyodorov, Tarpishchev's successor in the National Sports Fund.

The newspaper said Tokhtakhounov and Tarpishchev became business partners.

Tarpishchev, Yeltsin's tennis coach and a former sports minister, now heads the Russian Tennis Federation. The now-defunct National Sports Fund was a major importer of cigarettes and spirits and served as a slush fund for the Yeltsin administration.

Tarpishchev's office did not reply to requests for comment Thursday.

In 1993, Tokhtakhounov moved to Paris, where he quickly earned fame as a generous sponsor of Russian sports, culture and art.

NTV television on Thursday showed footage of Tokhtakhounov at a July 1999 party in Paris, which was thrown to mark his becoming a knight of the international order of St. Constantine the Great.

Kommersant reported in July 1999 that among the guests at the party were Anissina, Kobzon and Bure.

"I started out from a clean slate," Tokhtakhounov said in the NTV footage.

He also said European law enforcement had no cause to arrest him, although it was not clear what elicited the comment.

Russian law enforcement said Thursday that they had no interest in Tokhtakhounov. An Interior Ministry official said his name was not on any wanted list.

Then-Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo sounded a similar note in 1999, telling NTV: "Tokhtakhounov is demonized by the media. He is just a gambler."

Tokhtakhounov later moved to Italy, where he was arrested Wednesday.

Tokhtakhounov will plead innocent to all charges and fight extradition, said his lawyer Luca Salvarelli, who had not yet met with his client Thursday, AP reported.

It was not clear when he might be extradited, but the process can last more than a month, AP said.

Shvets of the Russian Olympic Committee said Tokhtakhounov's propensity for bluster and bragging could have led to the U.S. charges.

"He has a delusion of grandeur," Shvets told NTV. "He could pick up a phone and tell his friends something like 'I arranged with the judges for two medals for our guys and made sure the Canadians would come in second.'"