NHL denies Russian mob links to players

The National Hockey League is playing down charges that criminals in Moscow may exert influence over some Russians who play in the NHL. The story is the result of a major investigation by the fifth estate in a documentary that aired Wednesday on CBC TV.

When the cold war ended, the NHL began importing the best hockey talent from Russia. Those players also attracted the attention of Russia's post-cold war underworld.

Millionaire hockey stars like Alexander Mogilny have been the targets of extortionists. But other Russian players have also developed friendly relationships with alleged crime figures in Russia.

the fifth estate turned up evidence Valery Kamensky and Slava Fetisov had links with criminal elements in Russia. The FBI says Fetisov was president of a company used for money laundering by Vyacheslav Ivankov, who was the Russian godfather in North America.

Fetisov, who now coaches for the New Jersey Devils, hints that questions about such business relationships smack of anti-Russian attitudes.

RCMP organized crime specialist Reg King worked undercover with the FBI. He says there are "more than five and less than 10" NHL players connected to organized crime. "I'm unclear of what those relationships are," King adds.

The NHL says it has looked into the relationships and found no wrongdoing by Kamensky, and isn't convinced of Fetisov's connections to a crime figure. "We investigated the situation, and we're satisfied there was no personal association at all," said Bill Daly, chief legal counsel for the NHL.

Jim Moody, a former head of the FBI's organized crime unit, was hired by the NHL to look into the matter. He came to a different conclusion about Fetisov. "I'd have great concern, as the league, with the people that he's associating with, " said Moody.

Former Vancouver Canuck Pavel Bure, now with the Florida Panthers, is a friend and business associate of Anzor Kikalishvili, believed by police in United States and Russia to be a criminal. Bure says: "Yeah I know all those rumours about him. But it's rumours."

The NHL says it is concerned about Bure's relationship with an alleged crime figure, and is monitoring it.

Wednesday night the NHL issued this statement, saying the fifth estate report attempts to sensationalize old allegations. The league added that no NHL players have ever been arrested or had their visas revoked because of involvement with organized crime.