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Skating Medals May Be Pulled

Skating medals awarded at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics could be annulled if claims that organized crime helped fix the results were proven, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said Friday.

Meanwhile, a reputed Russian mobster charged with fixing two figure skating events in the worst judging scandal in Olympics history insisted he knows nothing about the Salt Lake City Games and that the case against him is a "farce," his lawyer said after meeting with him Friday.

Lawyer Luca Saldarelli, accompanied by a Russian interpreter, met his client for the first time at Venice's Santa Maria Maggiore prison Friday.

Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov was arrested in Venice by Italian police after a U.S. criminal complaint was filed. Italian police said the Russian may have been in contact with at least six Olympic judges in a plot to fix medals at the Salt Lake City Winter Games.

"He's absolutely surprised," Saldarelli said. "He doesn't know anything about the Salt Lake City Olympic Games. He's not even a fan of figure skating."

Rogge said the IOC did not have full access to the files involving the arrest of Tokhtakhounov.

"We do not rule out any action or sanction but we need to know more facts before we do that," Rogge told The Associated Press in a interview.

"We do not know enough today because the information that we have received is too much to be ignored. We do not want to ignore it but it's not enough to condemn without doubts."

But Rogge said the sport of figure skating was safe.

"I think we should not penalize the athletes who deserve to compete because of the wrongdoing of some judges," he said. "The athletes are not guilty. Some judges obviously are."

Saldarelli called his first meeting with his client "very positive. He obviously feels he has done nothing wrong."

"His job is he's an intermediary in some international affairs. That's all I can say," the lawyer said. "He lives in Rome and in Forte dei Marmi."

Asked what his client had to say in general about the case, Saldarelli replied: "He said it's a farce."

Tokhtakhounov is accused of scheming to get a French judge to vote for the Russian pairs team, and a Russian judge to vote in turn for the French ice dancing team, according to the criminal complaint filed in Manhattan federal court. Both teams won gold medals.

Saldarelli indicated on Thursday he expected Tokhtakhounov to plead innocent and fight extradition.

The skaters on the Russian pairs team said Friday they planned to sue U.S. television networks for using pictures of them in connection with coverage of the reputed mobster. Anton Sikharulidze and Yelena Berezhnaya spoke on Russian television channels, but it was not immediately clear which American networks the pair planned to sue.

"I saw our pictures appearing on the screen while they were talking about some kind of Russian mafia," Sikharulidze said. "Together with people who are working with us, we are preparing to sue the television channels."

The Russian Olympic Committee said it would meet with lawyers in support of the lawsuits.

"These events resemble the theater of the absurd," spokesman Gennady Shvets said, according to the Interfax news agency. "It's clearly a dirty and foolish insinuation that undermines respect for Russian sportsmen."

The judging scandal resulted in a duplicate set of gold medals awarded to the Canadian team that finished second to the Russians.

Saldarelli described Tokhtakhounov as "a friend of some great Russian athletes, but not Olympians. He has a passion for soccer, being an ex-player."

The lawyer said he was hired to represent Tokhtakhounov just two days earlier.

On Thursday, an Italian organized-crime unit released transcripts of wiretapped phone conversations between Tokhtakhounov and unnamed co-conspirators during the games.

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

He did not identify the judges. Nine judges vote on each of the figure skating events.

U.S. prosecutors say an unidentified "co-conspirator" connected with the Russian Skating Federation did the legwork after being contacted by Tokhtakhounov. In exchange for fixing the events, U.S. prosecutors say, the reputed mobster wanted a visa to return to France, where he once lived.

The U.S. Olympic Committee urged "aggressive action" in a letter to International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge.

"Any connection between organized crime and the Olympic Games must be dealt with in the strongest possible manner, using all available resources and means," the USOC said.

International Skating Union president Ottavio Cinquanta said he had never heard of Tokhtakhounov. Asked whether the ISU could be forced to cancel or review the Salt Lake City results, Cinquanta said, "I don't think so. I don't know."

IOC vice president Thomas Bach of Germany asked the FBI to turn everything it knows about the case to the International Skating Union.

"It's about the credibility of the sport and its existence," Bach told the German sports news agency SID.

Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze won the gold medal by the smallest of margins in pairs figure skating, defeating Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier.

French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne said the next day she had been pressured to vote for the Russians. She later recanted but still was suspended, as was Didier Gailhaguet, the head of the French skating federation.

"I don't know this man, I have no contact with him," Le Gougne told the AP, referring to Tokhtakhounov. "This affair doesn't concern me."

Gailhaguet on Friday denied having any contact "before, during or after" the Olympics with Tokhtakhounov.

A week after the pairs competition, France's Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat won gold in the ice dancing. However, the Russian judge voted for the second-place Russians — indicating the scheme wasn't carried out the way prosecutors believe it was planned.

Italian police said Tokhtakhounov had a phone conversation with a French man, identified on the tape as "Chevalier," after the Russians won the gold in pairs.

"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."

Other transcripts detail a conversation between Tokhtakhounov and a female ice dancer's mother. After the Olympics, the female ice dancer called Tokhtakhounov and said she could have won without his help, according to the transcript. While Anissina was the ice dancer who won the gold, the papers didn't identify her as the woman on the phone.

Police say that during wiretaps in the Russian mafia investigation, they uncovered details of the alleged ice-skating fix.

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