Allegations of deal to fix 2012 Olympic boxing medals
- 22 September 2011
- From the section World
BBC Newsnight has uncovered evidence of secret payments of millions of dollars from Azerbaijan to international boxing organisation World Series Boxing (WSB).
Whistleblowers say that WSB's chief claimed the money was in return for a guarantee that Azerbaijani fighters would win two boxing gold medals at the London 2012 Olympics.
The boxing organiser at the Olympics, AIBA, admits an Azeri national paid $9m (£5.9m) to one of their competitions.
But they deny any deal to fix medals.
Lawyers for the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) told the BBC that any such allegation was "preposterous and utterly untrue".
That view was backed by AIBA President Dr Ching-Kuo Wu, who told Newsnight that the claims were "totally untrue and ludicrous", adding that "WSB is conducted in a totally transparent way".
However, he said that AIBA had a zero tolerance policy on corruption and that he would conduct an immediate investigation into the allegations.
The AIBA is the international governing body for the sport of boxing recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). World Series Boxing, a franchised league of professional boxing, is one of its initiatives.
Whistleblowers from inside boxing approached Newsnight with allegations about the Chief Operating Officer of the AIBA's World Series Boxing (WSB), Ivan Khodabakhsh.
WSB had run into financial difficulties in America and was in need of funding.
'Medals being sold'
The insiders said Mr Khodabakhsh told them that a secret deal had been done to secure funding from Azerbaijan in return for manipulation of the Olympic boxing tournament to guarantee gold medals for Azerbaijani fighters.
One insider told Newsnight: "Ivan boasted to a few of us that there was no need to worry about World Series Boxing having the coin to pay its bills. As long as the Azeris got their medals, WSB would have the cash."
Another said that Mr Khodabakhsh came in and said: "We are safe now - Azerbaijan came in - we have to give them medals for that."
"He was talking about gold medals in London in return for millions of dollars of secret payments," the insider added. "Medals are being sold so blatantly it's amazing."
But Mr Khodabakhsh told Newsnight that claims that there was any deal with Azerbaijan were "an absolute lie".
"I deny that I have offered anyone two gold medals or have any understanding that anybody else has offered two gold medals to Azerbaijan," he added.
AIBA has previously claimed that the money for WSB America came from a private Swiss company, but documents obtained by Newsnight show communications between Mr Khodabakhsh, AIBA executive director Ho Kim and Azerbaijan's Minister for Emergency Situations Kamaladdin Heydarov about an investment agreement for a $10m loan.
These include an e-mail from Mr Khodabakhsh to the ministry in Azerbaijan with the following request: "Please transfer the investment money soonest possible to the WSB America account."
Newsnight interviewed Mr Khodabakhsh earlier this month in Switzerland, where WSB have offices, and asked him about the source of the money.
"The money for WSB America came from an investment company here based in Switzerland," he said.
However, lawyers for AIBA and WSB, have now confirmed that although the money was paid through a Swiss company it actually came from Azerbaijan. But they deny that it was from the government there.
They say that the government minister, Mr Heydarov, introduced a private Azerbaijani investor to WSB and that the minister and his assistant acted as the interface between the two since the investor did not speak good English.
Newsnight tried to contact Mr Heydarov via his office, but has received no response.
To date the anonymous investor has contributed $9m to WSB America.
Sporting events promoter Barry Hearn was asked to look at the economics of WSB when it was first mooted in 2009 and came to the conclusion that it could not make money.
He told Newsnight he was surprised that any investor would think that it offered the opportunity for high returns:
"If an investor comes into this scheme with $10m I can only think he's arrived from another planet".
There have been repeated allegations of corruption in Olympic boxing competitions.
The legendary boxing commentator Jim Neilly told Newsnight "There have been enough incidences down the years to suggest there has been collusion".
Speaking to Newsnight, AIBA President Dr Wu said his organisation had spent the last four years "cleaning the house of boxing" and that any corruption or manipulation within the sport was not tolerated.
Watch Newsnight's full report on Thursday 22 September 2011 at 22:30 BST on BBC Two, then afterwards on the BBC iPlayer and Newsnight website.