Panel to probe possible boxing fix for 2012 Games

Denying corruption claims in the ”strongest possible terms,”

amateur boxing’s governing body set up a special committee Friday

to investigate allegations of attempts to fix results at the 2012

London Olympics.

The International Amateur Boxing Association said a five-man

panel will look into claims made in a BBC television program that

$9 million has been paid by Azerbaijan to ensure the former Soviet

republic wins two gold medals at the games.

Bribes were allegedly paid to the World Series of Boxing, a

subsidiary of AIBA.

”AIBA and WSB deny in the strongest possible terms that they

accepted an investment from Azerbaijan in exchange for two gold

medals at the London 2012 Olympics – or indeed for any improper

purpose,” the boxing bodies said in a statement.

”At this stage AIBA is not aware of any credible evidence” to

support allegations that WSB chief operating officer Ivan

Khodabakhsh promised gold medals to Azerbaijan in return for the

payment, it said.

”Ivan Khodabakhsh is a man of integrity and AIBA trusts him and

respects his work,” the statement said, adding that he has

promised to cooperate ”fully and freely” with the probe.

AIBA President C.K. Wu of Taiwan, who is also a member of the

International Olympic Committee, appointed a ”special

investigation committee” to look into the claims.

The panel will be led by Tom Virgets, chairman of AIBA’s

disciplinary commission. AIBA said the group would convene

immediately in Baku, Azerbaijan, where the amateur world

championships are currently taking place.

IOC President Jacques Rogge welcomed AIBA’s probe and asked the

BBC to turn over its evidence for possible action.

”We take every allegation very seriously,” Rogge said a news

conference after a sports seminar in Beijing.

Speaking by telephone from AIBA’s home city of Lausanne,

Switzerland, Khodabakhsh told The Associated Press on Friday that

the allegations were ”completely ridiculous” and ”absolute

lies.”

”I have never been asked to nor have I ever undertaken anything

illegal or unethical in the course of my duties working for WSB,”

Khodabakhsh said in the AIBA statement. ”I am ready to personally

take any possible measures to clear my name and prove that the

accusations are false and without any ground.”

Citing unnamed ”whistleblowers” and ”insiders,” BBC’s

Newsnight program on Thursday alleged that the $9 million was paid

by an Azerbaijan national to WSB, an international franchise

competition supported by AIBA. The program said the money was

needed by the WSB because it had run into financial difficulties in

the United States.

In its statement Friday, AIBA said it accepted a loan from a

”private Azerbaijani investor” for the operation of WSB’s

American franchises.

”The loan was not ‘secret’ and nor was there anything improper

about it,” the statement said. ”It was an arms length transaction

between two entities made on a commercial basis and with a view to

a commercial return for the investor.”

”Any suggestion that the loan was made in return for promises

of gold medals at the 2012 Olympics is, we repeat, preposterous and

utterly untrue,” AIBA said.

Gerhard Heiberg, the IOC official who oversaw reforms of AIBA,

said the allegations came as a ”shock.”

”This seems unreal because the process has been good,” he told

the AP by telephone from Beijing. ”The people have been changed.

The people running AIBA today are good people in my opinion.

”It would be very, very sad if the allegations are true,”

Heiberg said. ”I hope they are not.”

Heiberg said he doesn’t see how it would be possible to fix the

medal results but the allegations should be investigated anyway and

AIBA should face ”consequences” if bribes were paid.

”I feel we have found systems now to prevent things like

that,” he said. ”I cannot see how it could be possible to fix and

give two gold medals. I cannot see how it can function in practice.

Fifteen years ago yes, but not today.”

Heiberg was appointed chairman of AIBA’s reform commission after

the 2004 Athens Olympics.

The IOC withheld $1.1 million in Olympic television revenues

from AIBA after Athens. The money was paid in full in 2007 after

the IOC was satisfied that AIBA had cleaned up its act and improved

the sport’s scoring and judging systems.

The reforms moved forward after Wu ousted longtime chief Anwar

Chowdhry of Pakistan as AIBA president in 2006. Wu was re-elected

to a second four-year term last year.

In 2007, AIBA secretary general Caner Doganeli of Turkey was

expelled for financial misconduct and Chowdhry was barred for life

from any involvement with the federation.

”We have to follow up,” Heiberg said. ”C.K. Wu and his people

will have to explain what is happening. We cannot leave this

alone.”

AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva and Associated Press

writer Chi-Chi Zhang in Beijing contributed to this report.