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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Wiretap: Tokhtakhounov Savored Fix

ReutersMarina Anissina, front, and Gwendal Peizerat posing with their gold medals at Salt Lake in February.
VENICE, Italy -- An accused Russian mobster and a French sports official celebrated an alleged figure-skating fix at the Salt Lake Olympics, delighting that Russia took gold despite the Canadians being "10 times better," according to police wiretaps released Thursday.

An international investigation into the Russian mafia unexpectedly turned up references to the Olympics and a plot to corrupt judges, police explained Thursday, a day after arresting alleged mobster Alimzan Tokhtakhounov on U.S. charges of scheming to corrupt Olympic judges.

Tokhtakhounov is accused of persuading a French judge to vote for the Russian pairs team and getting a Russian judge to vote in exchange for the French ice dancing team, according to a New York criminal complaint. Both teams won gold medals.

Police said Tokhtakhounov held key phone conversations with a French man identified on wiretaps as "Chevalier." Italian authorities believe Chevalier was a member of the French sporting delegation, and that he was in contact with France's Olympic judges.

According to Italian transcripts of wiretaps -- translated by police from Russian -- Chevalier and Tokhtakhounov spoke after the Russians won gold.

"Everything will go well now because the French, with their vote, have made them champions," Chevalier said, according to the transcript. "It happened, it happened. Even if the Canadians are 10 times better, the French with their vote have given them first place."

Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze won the gold medal by the slimmest of margins in pairs figure skating on Feb. 11, defeating Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier. But French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne said the next day she'd been pressured to vote for the Russians.

The judging flap, the biggest in Olympics history, resulted in a duplicate set of gold medals being awarded to the Canadian pairs team.

Le Gougne said in a telephone interview Thursday that she didn't know Tokhtakhounov. "I have no contact with him. I don't understand anything about this affair. This affair doesn't concern me."

She said she never had any contact with any Russian in deciding who to vote for in the pairs competition. "For me, the Russians were the best," she said.

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said Thursday he was "appalled" at the alleged involvement of organized crime.

"While we knew from previous investigations that the judgment in the pairs figure skating was not correct, we are shocked to learn of the alleged involvement of organized crime," Rogge said.

A week after the pairs competition, the ice dancing team of Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat won France's first gold in figure skating since 1932.

Chevalier told Tokhtakhounov before the ice-dancing competition: "Be calm, Anissina will win," according to the transcripts.

About a month after the victory, Anissina allegedly called the Russian suspect to thank him, police said.

Other transcribed conversations had the two planning how to put together enough votes from the judges, as well as who were the most threatening skating opponents. Finally, they were recorded celebrating.

"My compliments, my dear friend. Thanks a lot," Tokhtakhounov told Chevalier by phone, the transcripts say. "I'm indebted to you for life."

The suspect also made references to judges, although none were recorded on the tapes and police did not know their identities.

"We have recorded a conversation in which the suspect indicates that six judges may have been involved," police Colonel Giovanni Mainolfi said. "However, we have no specific evidence against these judges at this time."

An official at the French Skating Federation said on condition of anonymity that she was not aware of anyone by the name of Chevalier being part of the delegation to the Olympics.

One French sporting official, Bernard Chevallier -- spelled with two l's -- insisted that he had no connection to the case. Chevallier, who was president of the French Ski Federation at the time of the Olympics in Salt Lake City, said he had "no contact with skating" and did not know Tokhtakhounov.

Ottavio Cinquanta, president of the International Skating Union, the sport's governing body, said he had never heard of the Russian man. "This is brand new," he said. "Now we have to collect the information. If we have evidence, we will take immediate action."

Asked whether the ISU could be forced to cancel or review the Salt Lake City results, he said, "I don't think so. I don't know."

U.S. investigators said Wednesday that they had obtained recorded telephone conversations between Tokhtakhounov and a French ice dancer, in which he brags about being able to influence the outcome of competitions.

The U.S. complaint made clear the case was based on confidential informants and wiretaps. It said wiretaps caught the defendant talking to a female ice dancer's mother, telling her, "We are going to make your daughter an Olympic champion. Even if she falls, we will make sure she is No. 1."

After the Olympics, the female ice dancer called Tokhtakhounov to discuss the outcome, the papers said.

Anissina was the ice dancer who won the gold, but the papers didn't identify her as the woman on the phone.

Mainolfi said that the investigation of the Russian mob -- an operation carried out with the FBI and Interpol -- was ongoing. "We are still investigating about 50 other suspects," he said.

A top Italian organized-crime prosecutor, Pierluigi Vigna, said the Russian mafia has deeply infiltrated Italian and European economies. In June, Italian police along with the FBI and international authorities arrested 50 people in an operation against money laundering by Russian mobsters.