Olympic bribe reports 'false'

2011-12-12 22:28

London - Allegations that Azerbaijan paid bribes to secure boxing gold medals at the 2012 Olympic Games are "groundless and unsupported by any credible evidence".

The International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) announced these findings on Monday after investigations into allegations made on a BBC television programme last September.

It was said Azerbaijan had paid $9 million (more than R70 million) in return for a guarantee of two boxing gold medals for the former Soviet republic at next year's Olympics in London.

The AIBA appointed a five-man committee to investigate the claims. The panel, headed by American Tom Virgets, chairman of the AIBA's disciplinary commission, issued its findings on Monday and disputed all the accusations.

Citing unnamed "whistleblowers" and "insiders", the Newsnight programme alleged that bribes were paid by an Azerbaijan national to World Series of Boxing, an international franchise competition supported by the AIBA.

It was said the money was needed by the WSB because it had run into financial difficulties in the United States.

"We have conducted an exhaustive investigation over the past two months, and we have concluded that the allegations made by BBC Newsnight in September, that there was an investment by a government or any discussion or effort to guarantee gold medals were completely without merit," Virgets said.

Virgets, former president of USA Boxing, issued a five-page statement from Annapolis, Maryland, where he is senior associate athletic director at the US Naval Academy. His report was submitted to the AIBA headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Virgets said the investigative panel examined hundreds of page of documents, emails, financial statements and transactions and took statements from dozens of officials.

The BBC alleged that WSB chief operating officer Ivan Khodabakhsh promised gold medals to Azerbaijan in return for the payment.

Virgets said a single private investor, Hamid Hamidov, made a "purely commercial investment" to support the establishment and creation of US boxing franchises for the WSB series.

The funds were transferred by the WSB from its Swiss headquarters in Lausanne to Colorado Springs to finance franchises in Los Angeles, Miami, Memphis and Mexico City, he said.

"This was purely a commercial investment, unconnected to the Olympic Games, and we have traced both the source of funds and their disbursement and documented our findings," Virgets said.

"The subject of medals had never come up in any discussions or agreements."

The AIBA panel said Hamidov "has confirmed he does not work either directly or indirectly for Azerbaijan or any government."

Virgets said the BBC had "relied heavily on hearsay" to support its allegations.

He said the panel had asked the BBC for evidence, but the company provided only the transcripts of the broadcast and "unsubstantiated statements by sources who made speculative claims but who refused to cooperate with the investigation."

Virgets said the investigation had found the ABIA had "appropriate safeguards in place" to guard against any attempts to fix results at the Olympics.

"No one, not even the AIBA president, could deliver medals because to do so it would be necessary to compromise or corrupt a total of 16 separate security safeguards of more than 60 referees and technical officials," he said.