Russia won the right to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, beating out Austria and South Korea, with the help of a mysterious Russian businessman, Gafur Rakhimov, who U.S. authorities describe as a top organized crime boss and heroin kingpin currently under criminal indictment in Uzbekistan.
"He is one of the four or five most important people in the heroin trade in the world," Craig Murray, a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, told ABC News for a report to be broadcast tonight on "World News With Diane Sawyer".
"He's absolutely a very major and dangerous gangster," Murray said.
Yet, after the International Olympic Committee voted in 2007 to award the games to Sochi, the head of the Russian Olympic Committee publicly thanked Rakhimov for his "singled minded work" in getting the votes of some Asian countries, "without which… it would have been hard for Sochi to count on the victory."
Rakhimov confirmed to ABC News, through a translator, that he played a role in helping Russia win votes through his contacts in Central Asian Olympic circles.
"He convinced them because of his good relations with these people. He has great influence," the translator, who was also a spokesman for Rakhimov, said during a phone interview from Dubai where Rakhimov moved after being indicted in Uzbekistan.
Rakhimov has long been connected by law enforcement authorities to heroin trafficking.
He was banned from attending the Olympic games in Australia in 2000 because of his alleged criminal ties.
In 2012, U.S. Treasury officials sought to freeze Rakhimov's bank accounts around the world, describing him in public documents as a "key member" of a huge Russian-Asian criminal syndicate called the Brothers' Circle.
"He has operated major international drug syndicates involving the trafficking of heroin," the Treasury statement said.
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Former ambassador Murray said the heroin from Rakhimov's network moves through Central Asia to St. Petersburg, Russia and then on to Europe and the United Kingdom.
Despite the criminal allegations and indictment, Rakhimov continues to serve as a vice president of the Olympic Council of Asia, a group of nations that are members of the International Olympic Committee.
Repeated requests for comment to the council were not answered.
Russian investigative journalist Sergei Kanev said Rakhimov has close ties with the mafia family in Sochi and with top officials in the Kremlin.
"There was obviously some sort of agreement between the Kremlin and the 'thieves-in-law," referring the common name use to describe Russian mobsters.
Kanev said members of Rakhimov's inner circle have boasted that "bags of cash" were used to secure the Olympic votes.
Rakhimov, through his translator, denied paying bribes. "It was not necessary," said the translator.
A spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin wouldn't comment on Rakhimov, instead referring to Putin's comments in a recent interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News.
"If anyone has concrete data on instances of corruption in implementing the Sochi Olympics Project, we ask to furnish us with objective data," he said.
A spokesperson for the International Olympic Committee did not directly answer questions about Rakhimov, but said in a statement, "The IOC has a strong, transparent, tried-and-tested bidding process."
The statement said the IOC "never compromised on quality, as the athletes expect the IOC to deliver games of the highest standard for them every four years."
Rakhimov told ABC News he does not plan to attend the Olympic games in Sochi next week.
A law enforcement official said Rakhimov was likely concerned that he could be arrested under the indictment issued by Uzbekistan.
Patrick Reevell is a freelance journalist based in Moscow, Russia.
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- Gafur Rakhimov
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