IOC vs. Gafur Cherny. Member of Brothers' Circle transforms Olympic boxing into mafia
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) had seen plenty of scandals throughout its history. In the end of 2017, it ceased financing of the International Boxing Association (AIBA) on suspicion of misuse of funds by its management. However, the IOC couldn’t even think that international drug trafficker Gafur Rakhimov, member of the criminal ‘Brothers’ Circle’ put on the OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List, is going to take charge of it soon. Furthermore, Rakhimov has contributed greatly to the selection of Sochi the place of the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Thomas Bach, President of the IOC, threatens to exclude boxing from the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. He has recently announced this at a press conference in PyeongChang. Furthermore, boxing may be excluded from the Buenos Aires 2018 Summer Youth Olympic Games. The official reason is financial issues experienced by the AIBA.
The IOC believes that AIBA President Wu Ching-Kuo has, in fact, driven it to bankruptcy. In November 2017, he had to resign leaving the organization with a debt of £12 million ($16.8 million). Franco Falcinelli, President of the Italian Boxing Federation, was appointed an Interim AIBA President – but on January 27, 2018, Gafur Rakhimov, a perpetual Vice President of AIBA, has replaced him. A new President is to be elected at an AIBA congress in Moscow in November 2018.
In the first days of his interim presidency, Rakhimov has reported achievements in settling the financial issues of the organization. The Interim President announced an out-of-court agreement with the creditor – Azerbaijani company Benkons – and a restructuring of the debt in the amount of $10 million. The parties have agreed that the AIBA shall start paying off $2 million since 2021, while the remaining amount shall be converted into sponsorship. According to Kommersant, the loan from Benkons was received back in 2011, and a half of the sum has disappeared immediately after the transfer of the funds to AIBA accounts.
The New York Times noted that after the receipt of the loan, Azerbaijani boxers have won 9 medals, including 4 gold ones, at world championships and 4 medals (without a single gold) at Olympic games in 2012 and 2016. The AIBA has dismissed the ‘medals for money’ allegations noting the lack of evidence of wrongdoing.
The situation with claims of Chinese businessman U Di, Head of First Commitment International Trade, who has invested some $20 million into the Boxing Marketing Arm (BMA), remains uncertain as well. The BMA was supposed to promote AIBA products and protect its commercial rights. However, in May, the AIBA has signed a contract with Alisports, a subdivision of Alibaba, and transferred all the respective functions to it, thus, effectively liquidating the BMA. Currently U Di is trying to recover his investments through court action.
However, the high-profile statements of the IOC President were caused not only by the financial issues known to interested parties for a while – especially taking that the organization has found a way to overcome the difficulties. Apparently, the IOC does not trust the person who is going to remain in charge of the AIBA until the election of a new president in November 2018.
Back in 2012, the U.S. Department of the Treasury has designated Gafur Rakhimov a member of so-called ‘Brothers’ Circle’, a criminal organization consisting of natives of the former Soviet Union. Rakhimov has been blacklisted together with such prominent thieves-in-law as Zakhary Kalashov, Vasily Khristoforov, Kamchibek Kolbayev, Lasha and Kakhaber Shushanashvili, etc.
The American authorities have designated criminals persons who, similarly with Rakhimov, do not have a thievish status but actively collaborate with crowned thieves – for instance, Grigory Leps, the favorite singer of the Russian criminal world. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had even requested explanations from the U.S. in this regard claiming that the guilt of Russian citizens can be established only in the framework of the Russian judicial system.
According to The CrimeRussia source, in 2013, Leps had tried to get out of jail his detained friend – thief-in-law Dzhemal Mikeladze (Dzhemo). It is known that Leps has contribute $100 thousand to the pooled cash fund intended for the crowned thief and called other people offering them to make a ‘donation’. Russian secret services have intercepted a telephone conversation where Leps and Gafur Rakhimov were discussing this matter.
According to the most recent information published by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Rakhimov has five Uzbek passports, one Russian passport, and a National ID of the United Arab Emirates. He resides in Dubai in a luxury cottage community where the average cost of a home is some 5 million UAE dirhams ($1.4 million). He also owns an apartment in a luxury residential complex on Leninsky avenue in Moscow.
According to the American authorities, Rakhimov had assisted thieves-in-law in ‘settling issues’ with the law enforcement authorities, organized their meetings, etc. Most importantly, he has been named a leading criminal of Uzbekistan controlling heroin trafficking.
Gafur Rakhimov was born in 1951 in Tashkent. Studied boxing in a sports school. Acquired an economic education in Leningrad. Worked in the Ministry of Trade of Uzbekistan; was a boxing trainer in Dynamo Sports Club. In the late 1980s – early 1990s, became involved into various businesses, including illegal ones. Concurrently held official positions in the Uzbekistan Boxing Federation, was a consultant of the Uzbek national team. Was a Vice President of the Uzbekistan Boxing Federation, member of the Executive Committee of the Association Internationale de Boxe Amateur (AIBA). In 1999 became a Vice President of the Olympic Council of Asia representing the Central-Asian region. Since 2002, a Vice President of AIBA; since 2007, the President of the Asian Boxing Federation as well.
The Russian law enforcement authorities know Rakhimov as Gafur Cherny (Gafur the Black), leader of an interregional organized criminal group having close ties with late thieves-in-law Yaponchik and Ded Khasan. Alexander Litvinenko, lieutenant colonel of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation poisoned in London, mentions him and his connections in his book entitled “Lubyanka Criminal Group”. In the 1990s, Rakhimov had imported into Russia, together with Yaponchik, bottled vodka disguised under mineral water. Later he has pulled off a large-scale fraud with oil officially intended for Kaliningrad but diverted to Estonia.
Gafur Cherny became known abroad in 1998 – not as a sports functionary, but as an ‘Uzbek drug lord’. After publications in several European media outlets, the French authorities have revoked his visa and deported Rakhimov from the country. In 2000, Rakhimov, then-Vice President of the Olympic Council of Asia representing the Central-Asian region, was denied access to Sydney Summer Olympic Games. In 2003, the media obtained a photo showing Rakhimov together with Ded Khasan. The picture was taken in Montiboli Hotel in Spain during the celebration of the 50th birthday of Shakro Molodoy.
Ded Khasan and Gafur Cherny
In 2008, Rakhimov was ousted from the post of the Vice President of the Uzbekistan Boxing Federation. Severe audits were launched against his companies incorporated in this country; ultimately, these legal entities have changed the ownership. According to Novaya Gazeta, the Uzbek authorities, being in desperate need of foreign credits, decided to demonstrate their struggle against an international drug syndicate. According to another version, Gafur Cherny could not divide assets of Ipoteka Bank with Gulnara Karimova, daughter of the President of Uzbekistan. Rakhimov had to leave the county; currently he resides in the UAE and visits Russia on a regular basis.
The IOC has logically concluded that a person with such a past may not be put in charge of an international sports organization.
Yuri Kuznetsov, attorney for Uzbek businessman and concurrently Interim AIBA President Gafur Rakhimov, believes that the threat to exclude boxing from the Olympic disciplines has nothing to do with his client - he claims that the issues have begun in the AIBA during the rule of the previous President.
It is necessary to explain how Rakhimov puts together business and sports. Currently he has no companies in Russia – but Rakhimov’s son Akmal used to own a share in some AgroOil Company incorporated in 2010 and liquidated in February 2017.
Later AgroOil Company was acquired by Sofia Law Firm Limited Liability Company belonging to Ilya Sobolev. He owns some 30 companies specializing in various spheres. Sobolev and his companies incorporated in different regions of Russia (Dankom Limited Liability Company, TransAvto Closed Joint Stock Company, Kompleks Limited Liability Company, Dominanta Sibir Limited Liability Company, Siberian Center of Sports Wrestling and Martial Arts Children’s and Youth’s Sports School Regional Public Organization, and Azstroy Limited Liability Company) have ties with Sardar Gulu Ogly Khalilov, Head of the Russian Division of Azerbaijani company Benkos Group specializing in hotel business, construction, and juice production. The final beneficiaries of Benkos Group are Tele and Nidzhat, members of powerful Azerbaijani clan Geidarov and sons of the Azerbaijani Minister of EMERCOM. Their ties with AgroOil Company and Sofia Law Firm are not coincidental.
Helped where possible
In addition to suspicious ties of Rakhimov and dark episodes in his biography, Thomas Bach could be unhappy with his actions at the post of a Vice President of the Olympic Council of Asia. The IOC suspects that Rakhimov has played, using his official capacity, a key role in the selection of Sochi the place of 2014 Olympics.
On June 22, 2006, Jacques Rogge, then-President of the IOC, has named the three cities – contenders for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games: Sochi, Salzburg, and PyeongChang. On July 4, 2017, at the final IOC session held in Guatemala, Sochi has got 51 vote and PyeongChang – 47 votes (Austrian Salzburg was eliminated in the first round).
A month after the voting, Leonid Tyagachev, President of the Russian Olympic Committee, told in an interview to Rossiiskaya Gazeta (Russian Newspaper) that the “old friends – representatives of CIS countries wielding great authority and power in the Olympic Council of Asia – have provided significant support to our country. I can assert, – Tyagachev said, – that the voices of representatives of Asian countries in the IOC – without these voices it would be difficult for Sochi to win – were given in favor of our city thanks to conscious efforts of Gafur Rakhimov, representative of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Vice President of the Olympic Council of Asia, and Executive Vice President of the AIBA”.
It was supposed that the “conscious efforts” had been negotiated with Rakhimov in advance and involved the ‘motivation’ of national Olympic committees of the 45 Asian countries whose voices have ultimately handed the victory to Sochi. Novaya Gazeta claims, citing its source in the secret services, that there was a conversation between a high-ranked Russian functionary and Gafur Cherny – and the parties have come to an agreement. Rakhimov promised to help in exchange for provision of governmental contracts for construction of Olympic facilities to his friend – a Deputy of the State Duma – and expressed an interest in diamond mining in the Sakha Republic.
After the victory of Sochi, this information was indirectly confirmed. Novaya Gazeta does not provide the Deputy’s name, but we believe that it was Akhmet Bilalov.
At the time of the conversation, he was indeed a Deputy of the State Duma (since 2000 to 2007), and his career in the sports industry has skyrocketed after that.
According to some information, in summer 2007, the mansion of Bilalov in Khlebny lane became the unofficial headquarters for preparations to the Sochi Olympics. German Gref, then-Minister of Economic Development and Trade; Presidential Aide Arkady Dvorkovich; Dmitry Chernyshenko, President of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Organizing Committee; and other key figures were often spotted there.
In September 2008, Bilalov became a member of the Presidential Council for Development of Physical Culture, Sports, and Preparations to the XXII Olympic Games in Sochi. A year later, he was appointed a Vice President of the Russian Olympic Committee; in 2010 became a member of the Commission for International Affairs of the Russian Olympic Committee; and in 2011 took charge of the Board of Directors of Northern Caucasus Resorts Open Joint Stock Company responsible for the construction of world-class mountain ski resorts in the North-Caucasian Federal District and Krasnodar krai. Akhmet Bilalov had controlled via his brother Magomed, a nominal shareholder of Krasnaya Polyana Open Joint Stock Company, financial flows allocated by the government for the construction of ski-jump ramps, media village, and relevant infrastructure.
However, in early 2013, during an inspection of the Olympic facilities by President Vladimir Putin, it turned out that some completion deadlines had been missed, while the costs exceeded by several times.
It became known that the brothers were using the funds allocated for the construction of Olympic facilities for personal purposes. For instance, Akhmet Bilalov has spent some 80 million rubles ($1.4 million) on flights to France, England, and other countries. During his visit to the United Arab Emirates, Bilalov had used a helicopter to travel from the hotel to the airport. 2.5 million rubles ($44 thousand) from the Olympic budget have been spent on his vacation in London. His brother Magomed had also used the budget fund arbitrarily – a portion of the money was deposited in the National Bank for Business Development Open Joint Stock Company controlled by him and later used to provide credits to companies belonging to Bilalov.
Shortly after that, Akhmet Bilalov was dismissed from all his posts, while the Investigations Administration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of the Russian Federation instituted against him a criminal case for exceeding official powers. Magomed Bilalov was charged in absentia as well. The brothers have absconded abroad – allegedly, to receive medical treatment.
There is no direct evidence of business ties between Bilalov and Rakhimov, but indirect links can be identified via the company belonging to the son of Rakhimov. In the mid-2000s, Bilalov had owned 51% of shares in Kompania Sever (North Company) Closed Joint Stock Company affiliated – via the Russian Golf Association, DsiE Osen’-1 development company, Ekspostroy Limited Liability Company, Education and Culture XXI Century Education Center Autonomous Non-Commercial Organization, and Interstar Limited Liability Company – with above-mentioned Ilya Sobolev.
In addition, there is evidence for communication between the ‘big brothers’ – billionaire Suleyman Kerimov, a partner of Bilalov in the oil business, and Rakhimov’s friend Salim Abduvaliev, one of the richest people in Uzbekistan dubbed ‘local mafia boss’. In addition to numerous joint business interests, Kerimov and Abduvaliev have connections in the sports. During the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, they were watching the wrestling competition together, which is not surprising: Abduvaliev is the President of the Uzbekistan Wrestling Federation, while Kerimov’s Nafta Moskva was the general sponsor of the Russian national freestyle wrestling team.
Two-time Olympic champion Arsen Fadzaev, Salim Abduvaliev, Suleyman Kerimov, Leonid Tyagachev, and Azerbaijani President Ilkham Aliev
With regards to the diamonds, Rakhimov held the negotiations himself. Being a member of the official delegation of the Olympic Council of Asia, he has met several times in 2012, under the pretext of the V Children of Asia International Sports Games, with Egor Borisov, Head of the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic, and Dmitry Glushko, Vice Head of Sakha, in Moscow and Yakutsk. It is unknown whether he was able to make any arrangements at that time, but, taking that his main associate in Russia Sherzod Asatullaev – the current Head of the International Department of the Russian Boxing Federation and former Director of above-mentioned AgroOil Company Limited Liability Company – had accompanied him at the negotiations, we have tried to find links between this company and diamond miners, cutters, and traders in Yakutia. It turned out that Sobolev has ties with Sakhayuvelir Limited Liability Company, Almaz-Gorod Limited Liability Company, Sakha Diamond Joint Stock Company, Avrora Diamant Closed Joint Stock Company, Choron Diamond Limited Liability Company, and Diamant Limited Liability Company, while Alrosa Group mining 99% of diamonds in Russia is linked with him via its former President Sergei Vybornov.
Gafur Rakhimov (on the left) at the opening ceremony of 2012 Children of Asia Games in Yakutia
According to the Uzbek media, Rakhimov’s wife Lola currently owns a chain of jewelry stores in Dubai.
An issue with the refereeing at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 still remains unsolved. The point is that boxing, being an Olympic discipline since 1904, had been a purely amateur sport up until recently. However, the AIBA has enabled professional boxers to participate in the 2016 Olympics. For that purpose, it has established its own professional boxing organization – Pro Boxing (APB) – responsible for the selection of athletes. The Russian boxers won five medals in Rio: one gold, one silver, and three bronzes. But the Olympic officials are still reviewing the results of fights of Russian boxers Evgeny Tishchenko and Vladimir Nikitin at these Olympic games. By the way, Uzbek boxers in 2016 were the leaders in the team scoring with 3 gold, 2 silver, and 2 bronze medals.
According to Bach, the IOC is going to request more information on the fights from the AIBA. In the meantime, all the contacts with the boxing organization, except for routine matters essential to implement IOC decisions, are put on hold.
Umar Kremlev, General Secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation, has noted in turn that the IOC is trying to intimidate the AIBA but it is unlikely that boxing is excluded from the Olympic games.
Of course, an exclusion of a sport discipline from the Olympic program is an extraordinary measure – but the IOC seems to be ready to take it – otherwise, meetings of the boxing federation functionaries may turn into thieves’ congregations.
The situation on international markets is worsening because of trade wars and protectionist policies. However, Dmitry Medvedev noted that the Government expects the expansion of the Russian economy until 2024.