Olympic boxing's new president Gafur Rakhimov tied to organized crime

GENEVA -- A boxing official described as "one of Uzbekistan's leading criminals" by United States authorities has been named interim president of the Olympic sport's governing body.

The International Boxing Federation (AIBA) said its vice president Gafur Rakhimov was promoted on Saturday after the "unexpected resignation" of interim leader Franco Falcinelli.

"Rakhimov has been described as having moved from extortion and car theft to becoming one of Uzbekistan's leading criminals and an important person involved in the heroin trade," the U.S. Treasury Department said last month when it announced freezing any assets he held under American jurisdiction.

Still, the long-serving AIBA vice president is set to lead the Switzerland-based organization for the next nine months until a scheduled election in Moscow.

AIBA was "obligated to follow the statutes" requiring the senior vice president to fill any vacancy, executive committee member Pat Fiacco told The Associated Press. He spoke by telephone from Dubai where national boxing federations held a special congress.

"There is nothing negative that the executive committee can say," Fiacco said, adding that Rakhimov has "contributed positively" to AIBA.

Rakhimov was linked last month to Thieves-in-Law by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which said the group "originated in Stalinist prison camps."

"The Thieves-in-Law has grown into a vast criminal organization which has spread throughout the former Soviet Union, Europe, and the United States, engaging in a variety of crimes, such as money laundering, extortion, bribery, and robbery," the federal office said.

Rakhimov allegedly has supported the criminal group by "providing warning of law enforcement issues, arranging meetings, and addressing other problems."

A federal document said Rakhimov resides in Dubai, where AIBA members met on Saturday. The meeting was called to deal with the fallout and financial problems from the previous presidency of C.K. Wu, a Taiwanese member of the IOC who left office last year.

"We must work closely with national federations and with the International Olympic Committee to restore confidence in AIBA's financial management and in its integrity," Rakhimov said in a statement on AIBA's website.

Rakhimov was key to renegotiating a $10 million loan from the troubled governing body's main creditor, Benkons, a company from Azerbaijan.

"He did that on his own," Fiacco said of the new president's work. He was "not aware of any travel issues at this stage" that would prevent Rakhimov working at AIBA headquarters in the Olympic capital Lausanne.

In the AIBA statement, outgoing interim president Falcinelli praised his successor. "I am confident that he will provide the leadership to restore AIBA to greatness."

The IOC, which was represented in Dubai by its sports director Kit McConnell, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Written and distributed by The Associated Press

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