Russian suspect in Italian prison will fight extradition to the United States

Tuesday, August 6th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

VENICE, Italy (AP) _ The reputed Russian mobster charged with helping fix two figure skating events at the Salt Lake City Olympics said he would fight extradition to the United States, an Italian judge said Tuesday.

Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov ``said no'' when asked at a closed hearing in canalside Santa Maria Maggiore prison if he would consent to extradition, according to Judge Giannicolo Rodighiero.

``I want to have the complete extradition procedure under Italian law,'' Defense lawyer Luca Saldarelli quoted his client as saying.

By refusing voluntary extradition, Tokhtakhounov is guaranteed a series of legal procedures that could take weeks.

``He said he's absolutely not guilty of having anything to do with the Olympics,'' the lawyer said.

The United States must file a request for extradition within 40 days of Tokhtakhounov's July 31 arrest. No U.S. demand had arrived by Tuesday, Rodighiero said.

Under Italian law, within a few days of being arrested, a suspect must appear before a judge, who then decides whether to validate the charges on the warrant. The judge at Tuesday's hearing upheld the Italian charges of criminal association, fraud and corruption.

Tokhtakhounov also was arrested on a U.S. criminal complaint, filed in Manhattan federal court, that accused him of fixing the results of the pairs and ice dancing competitions at the Winter Olympics in February.

The Italian police have released excerpts of wiretapped conversations they say show Tokhtakhounov was involved in fixing the events. They say he might have contacted as many as six judges to help secure a gold medal for the Russians in the pairs competition in exchange for a victory by the French ice dancing team. Both teams won.

Rodighiero, assigned to Venice's criminal court, was ferried back and forth from the prison by motorboat.

When the defense lawyer showed up for the hearing, he entered the prison with a stack of Russian newspaper clippings under his arm. He asked prison authorities if he could give the clips to Tokhtakhounov and was granted permission.

Tokhtakhounov has been living in Italy in a Tuscan seaside villa for about two years.

On Monday, in France, Olympic ice dance champion Marina Anissina acknowledged she had talked ``from time to time'' with Tokhtakhounov. She and partner Gwendal Peirzerat won the event.

She insisted that knowing him had nothing to do with her gold medal.

The French couple, along with the Russian pairs champions, Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, spoke at a news conference to defend themselves against accusations contained in a U.S. criminal complaint that their figure skating competitions were fixed.