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Olympic leadership failing to clean up act

The IOC's imperious habits persist, despite declaring that it has reformed its ways.

The gang's all here. The athletes, the scorekeepers, the sponsors and, of course, the world's sporting poohbahs, whose credentials bear a knife and fork icon entitling them to free eats. The whole "Olympic Family," as patriarch Juan Antonio Samaranch likes to call this brood, is here for the 27th Summer Olympic Games, which begin Friday.

Except for Mohamad "Bob" Hasan. Hasan, a member of Samaranch's International Olympic Committee, isn't here and likely won't be coming. Instead, Hasan is in jail in Jakarta, Indonesia, accused of bilking the state of tens of millions of dollars during his long and tight association with toppled Indonesian President Suharto, who is on trial for allegedly bilking even more.

But it's not for lack of trying that Hasan isn't here. Samaranch tried his best.

Back in April, Samaranch reached for a piece of his stationery embossed with the Olympics' famous five interlocking rings and dispatched a letter to Abdurrahman Wahid, Indonesia's first democratically elected president. The IOC, Samaranch wrote, was closely watching Wahid's efforts to steer his country in a new direction after Suharto's 32 years in power. At the time, Samaranch was struggling to clean up a bribery and influence-peddling scandal in his own organization. But the IOC boss wasn't writing to Wahid for tips on rooting out corruption. Instead, he was writing to inquire about the well-being of one of the men Wahid's government had singled out for criminal prosecution.

"As you well know, Bob Hasan is the IOC member in Indonesia," noted Samaranch's letter, a copy of which was made available to the the Wall Street Journal, "and he serves in different international and continental organizations, especially in athletics." The IOC president added: "Your continued support for the development of sport and Olympism in Indonesia and to the volunteer officials involved in the sport would be highly appreciated." Hasan, like all IOC members, receives no direct pay (but plenty of perks) for his Olympic work, and is thus a "volunteer" in Samaranch's lingo. He concluded with the hope that Wahid might review the letter with the "assurance of my highest consideration."

What, precisely, was Samaranch wanting from the new Indonesian government? Indonesia's Attorney General Marzuki Darusman, who is leading the corruption probes of the Suharto regime, says the IOC "through letters and local officials were trying to allow (Hasan) to travel" to Sydney for the Olympics, a fact corroborated by Hasan's lawyer, Augustinus Hutajulu.

Old habits hard to break: interceding for "Family'

Despite its pronouncements that it has reformed its imperious ways, the IOC and Samaranch apparently are finding old habits hard to break. A decade ago, Samaranch had similarly appealed _ also without success _ to the post-communist government of Bulgaria to allow its IOC member, Ivan Slavkov, to leave the country so he could travel to the Barcelona Olympics. He was being investigated for allegations of financial misappropriation during his tenure as head of communist state television. (Slavkov denied the charges and is now back traveling the world with the IOC.) To IOC critics, such efforts are part and parcel of the troubled IOC culture that was exposed in the votes-for-favors scandal that blemished Salt Lake City's selection as host of the 2002 Winter Olympics.

The attempt to intercede on Hasan's behalf not only runs counter to the global trend to hunt down and punish dictators and their cronies _ it also belies the reforms the IOC is trying to sell as part of its renewed commitment to what Samaranch frequently describes as the "Olympic spirit" of "democracy, justice and human rights." And it reinforces the suspicion that the IOC remains an elaborate tangle of favors owed and conferred, even when presented with allegations of criminal behavior by its members beyond the sporting realm.

Samaranch and the IOC hierarchy refuse to discuss the letter to Wahid, or to even comment on Hasan. Numerous attempts to reach Hasan for comment have been unsuccessful. The IOC is hoping that the start of the Games, with inspirational performances from the "athletic pillar" of the Olympic Family, will drown out the lingering talk of corruption in other branches of the family. When the Olympic flame is extinguished on Oct. 1, Samaranch intends to declare the Sydney Games "the best ever" and embrace that as his legacy as he relinquishes his 20-year hold on the IOC presidency next summer.

"People coming to the Games aren't preoccupied with the IOC," insists IOC Vice President R. Kevan Gosper, the former chief of Shell Oil Australia. "They are just ready for the Games to start, and from my view that can't come quickly enough."

To make sure all goes well, the 113 IOC members aren't only being ferried to Olympic events in boats beyond the public eye, they are being shepherded about by a special team of professional handlers from the trouble-shooting public relations firm Hill & Knowlton. IOC member Alex Gilady, who sits on the group's powerful Radio and Television Commission with Hasan, says some members have been advised to "seek advice" from the consultants before answering questions publicly. After taking such advice, the usually loquacious Gilady says he was prevented from responding to questions from the Wall Street Journal about Hasan or any other matter.

But the IOC's skeletons continue to tumble out of the closet _ and into Australia's security dragnet. Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock says that a number of Olympic Family members were denied visas outright, but he declined to say how many and who they were. He also said that two others issued with Olympic visas were blocked from entering the country last Thursday because their presence would raise "issues that go to our national security and safety." In addition, New South Wales Police Service Commander Nola Watson, the director of the Olympic Intelligence Center, says Interpol has briefed her department on a number of Olympic officials the government has permitted to enter the country and that police intend to monitor the movements of at least some of them.

Of the two who were denied entry, Samaranch identified one as Carl Ching, vice president of the International Basketball Federation.

Holder of Olympic visa accused of being in mafia

The other was Gafur Rakhimov, the vice president of the Olympic Council of Asia and business commission chairman of the International Amateur Boxing Federation. According to United States, French and Russian law enforcement documents available on the Internet and independently verified by United States law enforcement officials, the 49-year-old Uzbek is involved in "the distribution of counterfeit U.S. dollars in Poland" and a player in what a FBI report describes as "Russian organized crime/racketeering enterprises." A 1998 French Interior Ministry report on Rakhimov claims he is "one of the major members of the Uzbekistan mafia" and "a serious menace to public security." The criminal jacket on Rakhimov in the files of the Russian Chief Directorate for Fighting Economic Crime asserts that his "main specialty is the organized production of drugs in the countries of Central Asia."

Still, the IOC supported a visa application for Rakhimov and, ever loyal, IOC Director General Francois Carrard says the absent Uzbek is "a member of the Olympic Family." Samaranch once again put pen to paper and dashed off a letter to Australian Prime Minister John Howard pointing out that Sydney, as host of the Games, "has committed the federal government to respect fully the requirements of the Olympic charter" as they relate to entry into Australia by accredited members of the Olympic Family. He signed the letter as "Marques de Samaranch." Ruddock, the immigration minister, says other members of the family were denied visas outright, but he declined to provide the number of people involved or their names.

But this Samaranch letter came after several volleys already had been exchanged in August over Rakhimov's status. "There were many, many letters between Samaranch, Sydney organizers and the Uzbek committee on what Gafur would face if he tried to get into the country," says boxing federation President Anwar Chowdhry.

Carrard says allowing Rakhimov and Ching into the country is "an issue of political principle," but the IOC's position has rankled the government.

Olympic household troubles last week sparked lively dialogue at a University of Sydney conference to discuss the elements required to engender Olympic-style champions in business and government. "The IOC is not living up to the ideals it expects the athletes to embrace," says Australian judge Patricia O'Shane, who, along with former South African President Nelson Mandela and other luminaries, presided over the meeting. "It certainly doesn't hold moral and ethical values at the core of its business."

A chess connection raises eyebrows

Questions of the IOC's sincerity of reform even loom at the Athletes Village, where a scheduled chess exhibition exposes the newest dysfunctional branch of the family. Last summer, while a newly convened ethics panel was charting a post-scandal course for the IOC, the organization gave formal recognition to the International Chess Federation.

No matter that the president of the group, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, is also the president of Kalmykia, a tiny, wind-swept Russian republic on the Caspian Sea that boasts about 5,000 offshore companies, many of which U.S. law enforcement officials and others suspect are used for tax evasion and money laundering. No matter that in 1998, the Glasnost Defense Foundation, a human rights group, joined calls made by world chess champion Garry Kasparov for players to boycott federation events because of corruption in Kalmykia and the manner in which Ilyumzhinov has managed the chess body since first taking control in 1995. And no matter that the Russians in 1990 accused the federation's recently appointed marketing manager, Artyom Tarasov, of extorting about $5-million worth of crude oil from government stockpiles. The money was never recovered, and Tarasov, at the time a member of the Russian Parliament, was immune from prosecution.

Last week, responding to written questions from the Wall Street Journal, Ilyumzhinov said his presidency of the chess federation, "an organization that is recognized by the IOC, is not exclusive of my role as president of Kalmykia, and I've often tried to use my special relationship with friends and world leaders to bring investments."

But Hasan's empty seat at the IOC general assembly, which opened with a lavish party in the Sydney Opera House with an Aboriginal ceremony to "rid the ground of bad spirits," is the specter that most haunts IOC reforms. Days after Samaranch sent his letter to Wahid, the IOC chief, who prides himself on keeping abreast of world affairs, told reporters that all he knew about Hasan's Indonesian activities was that he "played golf" a couple of times a week with Suharto.

But it was no secret to world diplomats that Hasan also served as a member of Suharto's "crony Cabinet," installed just weeks before the aging dictator fell from power. Hasan was chairman of the the state-sanctioned monopoly that controlled Indonesia's exports of plywood; he was the head of Suharto's investment company, a powerful player that in effect pushed existing investors out and itself into key mining and automotive businesses; and Indonesia's attorney general's office has detained Hasan on charges that he defrauded the state of billions of rupiah through a forest-mapping company he controlled _ a charge his lawyer, Hutajulu, denies. The attorney general's office has also alleged in an indictment of Suharto, made public last month, that the former leader illegally diverted hundreds of millions of dollars from foundations licensed as charities into businesses controlled by Hasan and the former president's children. (Hutajulu says he can't comment on the Suharto trial; Suharto's lawyers deny all charges made against their client.)

On top of all this, the IOC's attachment to Hasan has enraged some environmental groups. Greenpeace International says Hasan, who is known in Indonesia as the "Timber Tycoon," was one of the industrialists involved in slashing Indonesian rain forests and triggering the 1997 fires that blanketed most of Southeast Asia with heavy smoke. Greenpeace says such behavior by an IOC member makes a mockery of Samaranch's claim that living in harmony with Mother Nature is a "pillar of Olympism."

Greenpeace Olympic Campaign coordinator Blair Palese says the Samaranch letter in support of Hasan "flies in the face of (the IOC's) environmental intentions" and is glad the Indonesian government ignored the plea.

Enjoying the perks while under house arrest

But even under detention, Hasan still isn't missing out on all the fun of being an Olympic Family member. Ten days ago, while under house arrest before being moved back to jail, Hasan campaigned for re-election as president of the Asian Amateur Athletic Association by hosting a luncheon at his suburban Jakarta estate. Since he couldn't go to any parties, he brought the party to him, according to attendees. He provided to his guests, who were in town for a congress and track meet, a manifesto detailing how he had previously financed numerous other track meets and how he had recently contributed more than $350,000 to the IOC-sanctioned association. And, if elected, he said he would "strengthen the finances" even more.

Money, he indicated, wouldn't be a problem, despite his legally binding agreement to repay the Jakarta government $700-million to cover banking violations he committed as a shareholder in a shuttered bank.

Elsewhere in Jakarta that very day, the corruption trial of Suharto was beginning.