ATR First: AIBA Interim President Speaks Out

(ATR) Gafur Rakhimov denies criminal connections, hints he could step down to save Olympic boxing.

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(ATR) Gafur Rakhimov tells Around the Rings he has "never been involved in transnational criminal organizations".

In an exclusive interview with ATR, the Uzbek-born Russian businessman issued a series of denials about the alleged criminal links detailed in a U.S. Treasury listing. It accuses him of being "one of the leaders of Uzbek organized crime".

Rakhimov is unopposed for the AIBA presidency in the Nov. 2-3 election in Moscow.

But the IOC has made explicitly clear that it won’t accept his leadership of AIBA due to his alleged criminal links, saying it will jeopardize boxing’s Olympic status.

Rakhimov refers to "various rumors and serious allegations", claiming they have been "disturbing and stressful" for him and his family. Since becoming interim AIBA president in January, replacing the ousted C.K. Wu, he says he decided not to comment about the allegations that have cast AIBA’s future leadership in a negative light at a time of massive turmoil for the federation.

"Now the AIBA member federations are going to make an important choice at our congress next month, and they must know the truth so that they can make an informed decision," he told ATR. "And the truth is that I of course have never been involved in transnational criminal organizations or whatever has been said about me."

Responding to Allegations

Asked what proof there was to clear his name, Rakhimov said: "The decision to include me to the U.S. Treasury sanction list was the consequence of the repression and persecution from the former dictatorship regime of Uzbekistan.

"The campaign against me was led by Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of the former president, because she and her allies requested that my businesses in Uzbekistan should support her financially – and they threatened many other business leaders as well - but I said no. However, the pressure continued and in 2010 my family and I had leave the country to protect our safety."

Rakhimov said what followed was a "misinformation campaign" from Karimova and her group who "provided the false allegations about me to the US Department of The Treasury in an attempt to destroy the remaining part of my business".

As Karimova enjoyed a high-profile position at that time, he said the U.S. authorities then "included my name in the list together with these false allegations".

Karimova, the daughter of former President Islam Karimov, who died in 2016, was jailed in 2015 on various corruption charges.

In December 2017, the same month Rakhimov ended up on the U.S. Treasury Department list, the department included Karimova in a new Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act list. That designation bans all U.S. entities from dealing with Karimova or any of her organizations or associates.

Rakhimov’s bid to remove his name from the U.S. list rests on the new Uzbek president Shavkat Mirziyoyev and his government.

"It is a complicated process to get off such a list, but my lawyers have made great progress and I am very confident that the mistake will be corrected within the next three to six months," he said.

In a Sept. 18 Uzbek government letter to the AIBA executive committee and its ethics commission – seen by ATR – Achilbay Ramatov, first deputy of the Prime Minister, confirms the government’s "full and unconditional support for Rakhimov’s AIBA presidential bid in the letter sent five days before the nominations deadline for boxing candidates.

"It would be an immense honor for our country if AIBA, as one of the leading Olympic international federations, were headed by an Uzbek citizen," the letter says. "lf elected at the AIBA Congress in November, Mr. Gafur Rakhimov would be provided with any support needed from our the side of the Uzbekistan government."

Crucially, the letter attempts to dismiss allegations of criminal wrongdoing on the part of Rakhimov.

"We would also like to take this opportunity to confirm that any allegations of past criminal activities by Mr. Gafur Rakhimov as reported in some international media, are based on unfounded evidences which do not have a real ground and are untruthful," it concludes.

Election Intrigue

Serik Konakbayev from Kazakhstan, who heads the Asian Boxing Confederation, had hoped to challenge Rakhimov in next month’s election. But his bid for the AIBA presidency was halted when the federation’s boxing committee deemed him ineligible, reportedly because he lacked the required 20 nominations.

He launched an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport last week.

Saying he had the unequivocal backing of the new government, Rakhimov added that the administration "would not even consider that, if there were anything true about the allegations against me as listed by the U.S. Department of The Treasury".

"The new government of Government of Uzbekistan knows who were behind these false allegations and how they made their way to the U.S. authorities," he added.

He urged international media "who have linked my name to all these wrongdoings" to "check the facts with the Uzbek government".

In another twist to the AIBA presidential race, ATR has heard that Rakhimov is considering stepping down as AIBA president after a day or a few days due to pressure from national federations who don’t want boxing’s Olympic status put at risk.

Commenting on this, he said: "My hope is that everybody will now let the AIBA member federations make their own independent decisions early November at the congress in Moscow.

"After the congress, the AIBA leadership will then submit the promised report to IOC Executive Board with detailed explanations of all decisions made by the congress. This means new regulations and statutes in line with our focus on good governance as well as the elections for AIBA leadership."

If he secured the AIBA top job, Rakhimov vowed to hand over details about "my position, background, etc" in the report to IOC.

But Rakhimov hinted that he wouldn’t rule out stepping aside while he tried to clear his name of alleged criminal activity and wrongdoing.

"I’m convinced that we can then establish a good co-operation between IOC and AIBA," he said.

"But should that not be the case because of some temporary issues, then I will of course never stand in the way of an Olympic future for boxing, and our new regulations provide a solid process for how to handle such temporary situation."

"AIBA and boxing are more important than any candidate, and that of course includes me."

Reforms and Finances

The IOC has frozen funding and contacts with the AIBA leadership, warning that a major governance overhaul is necessary before the relationship is restored. The Olympic boxing federation is under more scrutiny than ever before to implement reforms

Rakhimov said that in just eight months, AIBA’s ruling body "have made so many important changes and improvement to our governance system, our anti-doping work and our judging and refereeing system.

"Some of these important improvements will be put before the congress and I am very confident that the AIBA members will approve them. There is still work to be done and we will keep improving the governance of AIBA on all fronts until we are best in class," he added.

Speaking about the federation’s debt problems, Rakhimov blamed "an unbelievable level of financial mismanagement in the past… we are talking about tens of millions of dollars being spent on projects, with basically no oversight and control at all".

Rakhimov said by the end of 2017, AIBA was "just days away" from bankruptcy but agreements with creditors and investors had led to "a stable financial situation and the budget for the coming years will allow us to rebuild AIBA in a solid way".

Asked how he would improve AIBA under his presidency, he promised to focus on fixing "the problems of the past" through the "New Foundation Plan" announced in the summer.

He would also develop a comprehensive strategy to grow boxing at all levels globally, in cooperation with all AIBA stakeholders.

"After all the cleaning-up and all the difficulties we had to deal with, we now must allow ourselves also to look forward and to dream big," he said.

Reported by Mark Bisson

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