Uzbek and Hong Kong Olympic officials banned


SYDNEY, AFP

Australian authorities have banned two top Olympic officials from entering the country, sparking IOC demands for an explanation from Prime Minister John Howard.

Powerful boxing figure and member of the Uzbekistan National Olympic Committee Gafur Rakhimov, and Carl Ching Men-Ky, vice-president of International Basketball Federation FIBA, were stopped from entering the country by immigration officials.

Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said the ban was to protect “the safety and security of the Australian people”.

But IOC director general Francois Carrard complained that it breached an agreement signed with the IOC, allowing entry to all members of the “Olympic family.”

Under Sydney’s host city agreement, Olympic accreditation doubles as a visa to Australia.

“We have asked for an explanation as for the reason why the Australian government has decided not to honor its commitment,” Carrard said. “We are waiting the response.”

Rakhimov, a senior official with the International Amateur Boxing Federation and a vice-president of the Asian Olympic Council, has reportedly been investigated by the FBI over links to the Central Asian drugs trade and Russian organized crime.

According to investigative journalist and author Andrew Jennings, he has been barred from France for alleged connections with organized crime.

In 1997, researchers at the Paris-based Geopolitical Drugs Watch named Rakhimov in the annual report on narcotics as one of Uzbekistan’s top three mafia bosses, heavily involved in the drugs trade.

Rakhimov, 49, operates in Moscow and London and is influential in the economic and political leadership of Uzbekistan and in other Central Asian countries formerly part of the Soviet Union, according to Jennings.

Ching, a prominent Hong Kong businessman, is also president of the Asian Basketball Association and Asian Basketball Confederation.

His company recently organized the Diamond Bowl basketball competition in Hong Kong which included six Olympic teams — Australia, Yugoslavia, Canada, Angola, mainland China and Italy.

Con Conway, vice-president of the Hong Kong Sports Federation and Olympic Committee confirmed Ching was refused entry.

“He is not a member of the Hong Kong Olympic family or a Hong Kong delegate,” he told AFP. “He has never been a member of the HK Sports Federation and Olympic committee.”

Sources added it was believed he had links with the Triad Chinese criminal underworld and had previously been under police surveillance. He was reportedly refused entrance to the United States and Canada 18 months ago.

Immigration officials here insisted that although Sydney agreed to the IOC conditions that all Olympic members must be allowed entry it said that it reserved the right to stop anyone it believed constituted a threat to national security.

Carrard said US bans on members of the Olympic movement travelling to Atlanta in 1996 were rescinded but Ruddock refused to apologies or backtrack on the government’s action. “We are dealing with serious issues of character,” Ruddock said. “We are not making capricious decisions. We don’t take decisions lightly.”

He said it was made clear to the IOC that Australia could demand additional documentation before granting entry and denied an agreement had been breached or that the IOC could be offended.

“It was very clear, it was known to the IOC as well as us, they’re the rules we have applied,” Ruddock said. “Certain assurances were given which we endeavored in the spirit of those undertakings to honor.” He said he would consider listening to further evidence about the banned officials but it was unlikely the decision would be changed.

“You don’t negotiate matters of this nature,” he said.