AIBA, the international governing body for Olympic boxing, has made Gafur Rakhimov, a man shrouded in controversy, the organisation’s new Interim president.

Previous president Dr. Ching Kuo Wu stepped down last year after a protracted dispute over allegations of financial mismanagement at AIBA. Issues around a $10 million loan from Azerbaijan-based company Benkons left AIBA facing the threat of bankruptcy. Rakhimov has been integral to reaching a settlement with Benkons.

Franco Falcinelli then stepped in as Interim president. Despite an understanding that Wu would be named Honorary President, that was rejected in a vote at an Extraordinary Congress which AIBA held in Dubai on Saturday (January 27).

At the meeting Falcinelli resigned as Interim president and Rakhimov was appointed in his place, according to AIBA statutes. Rakhimov is a long serving Vice President at AIBA. He has also been sanctioned by the United States Department of the Treasury, no less, for alleged links to a significant “transnational criminal organisation,” the Thieves-in-Law. The action taken by the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control last month prevents US persons from conducting financial or other transactions with the individuals and entities it designated, and froze any assets they may have under American jurisdiction.

“The Thieves-in-Law is a Eurasian crime syndicate that has been linked to a long list of illicit activity across the globe,” OFAC Director John E. Smith said. “Treasury is designating the Thieves-in-Law as part of a broader strategy to disrupt the financial infrastructure of transnational criminal organisations that pose a threat to the United States and our allies.”

In a statement the Treasury department said, “Gafur Rakhimov is being designated for providing material support to the Thieves-in-Law. Rakhimov has collaborated with Thieves-in-Law on business, as well as assisted Thieves-in-Law by providing warning of law enforcement issues, arranging meetings, and addressing other problems. Rakhimov has been described as having moved from extortion and car theft to becoming one of Uzbekistan’s leading criminals and an important person involved in the heroin trade.” He has not however been prosecuted of anything.

Rakhimov though told the Extraordinary Congress that he would restore transparency and financial stability to AIBA. “We must work closely with national federations and with the International Olympic Committee to restore confidence in AIBA’s financial management and in its integrity,” he said. “This means greater transparency and improved corporate governance of AIBA, together with independent audits that are conducted in the light of day and not hidden from the AIBA Executive Committee and national federations as happened last year.”

“Now is the time for us all to unite,” he continued. “Our greatest responsibility must be to the millions of fans around the world who love boxing and want to be inspired by world-class boxing. We owe it to the fans to make boxing great again.”

To Falcinelli, Rakhimov “is a great ambassador for our sport”. Falcinelli added, “I am confident that he will provide the leadership to restore AIBA to greatness.”

An election to decide a permanent president for AIBA is due to take place later this year.