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Hit By Criminal Accusations, World Amateur Boxing Chief Fights To Clear His Name

Gafur Rakhimov (right) has been removed from Uzbekistan's most-wanted list.

The controversial, self-exiled Uzbek sports administrator tasked with saving Olympic boxing from corruption and match-fixing allegations has been dropped from Uzbekistan's "wanted list" of alleged criminals.

But Gafur Rakhimov, interim president of the International Boxing Association (AIBA), still faces a criminal investigation in Uzbekistan into allegations of alleged extortion, laundering millions of dollars from an organized criminal organization, and forging documents.

The interim chief of amateur boxing's world governing body also remains on the U.S. Treasury Department's sanctions list as "one of Uzbekistan's leading criminals," an alleged key figure in the global heroin trade, and alleged links to a notorious international criminal network known as "thieves-in-law."

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service has obtained a copy of a July 10 decree issued by the Prosecutor-General's Office in Uzbekistan that removes Rakhimov from its list of "wanted" individuals.

The document stipulates that Rakhimov will not be detained for questioning if he returns to Uzbekistan, which he fled in 2010 after falling out with the government of then-President Islam Karimov and having his import-export businesses confiscated by the state.

However, Rakhimov would be required to report voluntarily to authorities in Tashkent for questioning upon his return.

Uzbek authorities tell RFE/RL that Rakhimov has expressed his readiness to return to his homeland in order to "clear his name."

That would bolster Rakhimov's attempts to be removed from the U.S. sanctions list and make it easier to be elected as the next AIBA president in November when the organization meets in Moscow to choose the interim president's successor.

No Charges, But Case Not Closed

Criminal charges have never been filed against Rakhimov in Uzbekistan -- a former Soviet republic where judicial procedures prevent charges in such cases against suspects who have not been questioned by law enforcement.

Criminal investigations like the one formally launched against Rakhimov in 2013 also cannot be closed until authorities question the suspect.

With Rakhimov living in Dubai and Moscow since 2010, prosecutors in Tashkent have not been able to interview him directly.

The decree removing Rakhimov from Uzbekistan's "wanted" list was signed by Shohmuhammadbek Muhammadjonov, the head of the Prosecutor-General's Office for Investigations into Serious Crimes.

Its authenticity has been confirmed by senior law enforcement officials in Tashkent.

The U.S. Treasury Department has said that Rakhimov, pictured here in Ankara in 1998, is "one of Uzbekistan's leading criminals."
The U.S. Treasury Department has said that Rakhimov, pictured here in Ankara in 1998, is "one of Uzbekistan's leading criminals."

Muhammadjonov states in the decree that "there are no grounds" for concern that Rakhimov would "abscond from the investigation" against him or from the courts if he returns to his homeland.

He says that's because "the accused G.A. Rakhimov is well known. He has a permanent residence and work" in Dubai, is married, and is the interim president of amateur boxing's world governing body.

An Uzbek law enforcement official familiar with the investigation against Rakhimov, speaking on condition of anonymity, told RFE/RL that Rakhimov himself requested that he be removed from Uzbekistan's wanted list "on the grounds that he has cooperated with the investigation and did not interfere with establishing the truth."

"There are no barriers to his return," the official said. "On the contrary, we ourselves are interested because it will help our investigation even more" if we can interview him directly.

Rakhimov has repeatedly refused to respond to questions from RFE/RL about the allegations against him in Uzbekistan or those published by the U.S. Treasury Department as justification for sanctions against him.

But in May, the AIBA announced that Rakhimov instructed his lawyers at Ferrari & Associates in Washington and Carter-Ruck in London to file a petition for his removal from the U.S. sanctions list.

"The move to engage two legal powerhouse firms shows that he is serious about proving his innocence in the face of what he called ‘fabricated media allegations of criminal associations that do not exist'," the AIBA statement said.

Rakhimov said in the statement: "I have never been associated with any organized crime group, and I have never been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime by the authorities in any jurisdiction in the world."

Olympic Boxing Scandals

Rakhimov's appointment as the AIBA's interim chief on January 27 followed a multi-million-dollar financial scandal over an unpaid loan received by the AIBA from a state-owned construction firm in Azerbaijan.

Bitter infighting within the AIBA also was ignited by widespread match-fixing allegations at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro where all 36 AIBA referees and judges were suspended over questionable decisions that often favored Russian and Uzbek boxers.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach said after Rakhimov's appointment that the IOC was "extremely worried about the governance of ABIA" and "reserves the right" to cut boxing from the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Bach also announced an IOC corruption investigation into AIBA governance, noting that the IOC had frozen millions of dollars in TV broadcast payments to the AIBA and had broken off all contacts "except the ones on a working level necessary" to clean up corruption.

In his AIBA interim president acceptance speech in Dubai, Rakhimov told national boxing federation delegates from around the world that they must all be "united to defend the sport" and "work closely with each other to restore confidence in the AIBA's financial management," its "integrity," and its "credibility with the IOC."

In a June 28 statement, Rakhimov said that the "AIBA is making fantastic progress forward."

On July 13, the AIBA launched what it called a "new foundation plan" on future "governance, events, rules, development, and communication" as part of its bid to prevent boxing from being dropped from the 2020 Olympics.

"We are confident that the new foundation plan provides us with a strong basis to build our future and will allow AIBA to continue to develop our sport on all levels and in all continents," Rakhimov said in a July 13 statement.

There was no immediate public response from the IOC about that plan.

The IOC president's latest public statement on concerns about AIBA reforms was in May when Bach said amateur boxing's governing organization has been slow in implementing reforms needed to avoid being banned from the 2020 Olympics.

"Our concerns on governance, financial, and sporting integrity are continuing and we think that we need to see action on the plans," Bach said.

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    Ron Synovitz

    Ron Synovitz is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL.

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    Sirojiddin Tolibov

    Sirojiddin Tolibov is the managing editor of RFE/RL’s Tajik Service. He has reported on operations against Islamic militants from hot spots in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Afghanistan. Tolibov has been published in various English, Russian, Persian, Turkish, and Uzbek media outlets and done documentaries. Prior to RFE/RL, he spent 20 years with the BBC World Service’s Central Asian unit as a reporter, manager, news anchor, and editor.