MOSCOW: The International Boxing Association’s new chief Gafur Rakhimov says he is committed to cleaning up the sport’s troubled governing body, but as far as the International Olympic Committee is concerned he epitomises its downfall.
Uzbek Rakhimov, 67, who was elected to lead the body with 84 out of 134 votes in Saturday’s election following a period as interim president is no ordinary patron of sport.
The US Treasury, in its role to insulate the US economy from international criminal activity, effectively sanctioned Rakhimov as a member of “the Brothers’ Circle” — a reputed transnational crime group — in 2012.
Last year the Treasury accused him of “providing material support to the Thieves-in-Law,” a designation commonly applied to ex-Soviet gangsters.
He vigorously denies the charges.
“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 Treasury concluded in December 2017.
However, in a recent interview with AFP, he said he had “never been involved in transnational criminal organisations or whatever has been said about me”.
His election threatens a split between the association and the International Olympic Committee which is concerned about the reputational damage his position at the sport’s apex will inflict on the Olympic family.
Rakhimov says the legal troubles that befell him in Uzbekistan, and were later dropped, arose from political infighting.
He fled his homeland in 2010 after officials under authoritarian former leader Islam Karimov reportedly seized one of his firms engaged in a lucrative import-export business.
After Karimov’s death his name appeared briefly on a wanted persons list published on the website of the country’s interior ministry.
He was wanted for alleged offences including money laundering and large-scale fraud.
But that notice subsequently disappeared from the ministry’s website and in July Rakhimov paid a triumphant visit to Uzbekistan’s National Olympic Committee (NOC) in the capital Tashkent.
“The truth is that I, of course, have never been involved in transnational criminal organisations or whatever has been said about me,” he told AFP in an interview last month.
He called his presence on the US Treasury list a “mistake” and hoped it would be “corrected” within six months.
– Scandals and accidents –
Rakhimov’s association with boxing stretches back to Soviet times when he was an amateur practitioner of the sport before becoming a coach, and, later, a wealthy benefactor.
In 1993 he began a five-year stint as the local boxing federation’s vice president and served in the same role for the NOC from 2001 to 2012.
On both occasions he was considered the power behind the throne although his tenure at the NOC was interrupted by what he says was a conflict with Karimov’s once-powerful daughter Gulnara Karimova.
Rakhimov’s emergence as amateur boxing’s interim head at the beginning of this year was only made possible by a series of scandals and accidents of circumstance.
Former chief Wu Ching-kuo of Taiwan resigned in 2017 amid claims of multi-million dollar accounting fraud.
Italian Franco Falcinelli then resigned the position just months after taking over, allowing Rakhimov — the next most senior vice president, to step up to the plate.
If boxing were excluded from the next Olympics in Tokyo in 2022, due to Rakhimov’s presidency and ongoing concerns about the AIBA’s financial health, Uzbekistan would be the biggest loser of all.
The country shined in the sport at the last Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, securing three golds, two silvers and two bronzes, more than any other country.–AFP