WHEN you’re a top Russian mobster on the run from the FBI for fixing an Olympic gold medal it’s comforting that a member of the IOC is happy to drink a toast and chat with you in a Moscow nightclub.
And even more welcome, if you are president of the Russian Football Foundation with plans to bid to stage the World Cup one day, that the tubby little IOC member clinking glasses and smiling at you also happens to be the president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter.
This month notorious mobster Alimzhan ‘Alik’ Tokhtakhounov celebrates the fourth anniversary of his meeting with IOC member Blatter at Moscow’s exclusive China Club. Making the introductions is Viacheslav Koloskov, longtime boss of Russian football and a member of FIFA and UEFA’s executive committees. See how pally he is with Alik.
Alik daren’t stray outside Russia’s borders – the Feds would have an Interpol warrant executed wherever he was spotted. But why should Alik care when the top guys in world sport drop by his favourite bar.
So this is the company Blatter keeps in private. No one with wealth and power is cold-shouldered. To maintain his electoral support across Eastern Europe, the FIFA president needs the goodwill of Russians with clout in sport.
Like Alik Tokhtakhounov. When arrested in Italy in 2002, on a US warrant for fixing the Salt Lake Olympic ice dancing contest, Alik was reported to be driving a big Merc registered in the name Ukrainian tennis star Andrei Medvedev. Pictures on Medvedev’s website of Alik posing with him, Marat Safin and Yevgeny Kafelnikov at the French Open in 1999 were wiped the next day.
His other friends include Russia’s top hockey star Pavel Bure, a leading Russian Olympic official and sports officials everywhere. An ex-footballer, Alik dabbles in the transfer business.
The friends Alik doesn’t talk about are listed in police crime files world-wide. He got to know some smart boys in school in Tashkent in the 1950s that are now variously billionaires, football club owners, emperors of industry, heroin traffickers and an IOC member who has problems with visas for the USA.
The FBI link Alik to Moscow’s Godfather of crime Simeon Moglevich. No longer with us are Alik’s former mentor Otari Kvantrishvily – a sniper got him from a rooftop and Sergei Timofeev who ordered that hit, himself blown up nine months later. One of their rackets was recruiting Russian Olympic wrestlers and weightlifters to run Moscow’s most-successful ever debt recovery agency. Hell, they’d still collect even if you didn’t owe!
So when some crooks at the International Skating Union wanted a few ice dance judges greased at the 2002 Salt Lake Games, they worked with Alik and his pal Chevalier Nusuyev, the president of the Russian Youth Sports Federation - who later left us in a rattle of gunfire in August 2005.
Alik set up the scam from his villa in Tuscany but his conversations with Nusuyev, skating officials and skaters in Utah during the Games were taped by Italian police investigating money laundering.
The deal was that that the Russians got their gold and Alik’s French chums got theirs. But the Canadian duo of Jamie Sale and David Pelletier were so blatantly robbed that the confused IOC – including Sepp Blatter – gave them a gratuitous gold alongside the French pair, the only time an Olympic event has yielded two gold medals when there should only be one.
The Italian cops tipped the FBI and Alik was arrested on a fraud warrant five months later. After a year’s vigorous legal activity Alik beat extradition to America and has been swanning around Russia, untouchable ever since.
So what were Sepp’s parting words to Alik as he left the China Club? ‘See you at the ice dancing in Sochi in 2014?’ Or did he say, ‘I’m sure you know what to do to bring the World Cup tournament to Russia in 2018.’
Perhaps Seb Coe, who has pledged his FIFA Ethics Committee to monitoring the 2018 campaigns, might have a quiet word with Blatter and Koloskov . . . and maybe ask Alik, stay out, pretty please, this FIFA process is dodgy enough already.