In "Mafia Power Play," FRONTLINE investigates how the tentacles of Russian organized crime have penetrated the National Hockey League. FRONTLINE's ten-month investigation involved dozens of interviews with sources in the Russian underworld, professional hockey, and law enforcement agencies in Russia, the U.S., and Canada.
The reports looks at cases where Russian players in the U.S. and Canada were vulnerable to Mafia threats and extortion because they had left close family behind in Russia. It also sketches the new criminal landscape of post-Communist Russia through the story of what happened to the Russian Penguins. In 1993 the Pittsburgh Penguins entered into a joint venture with the Russian Penguins and mounted a marketing campaign in Russia for the former Soviet team. However, sports consultant Stephen Warshaw says when the campaign began to bring fans back to the games, criminal elements started coming too.
In the United States, FRONTLINE interviews two of the NHL's most famous Russian players--Pavel Bure and Slava Fetisov--about their personal and business relationships with major figures in Russian organized crime.
When the FBI shut down a New York-based extortion and money laundering operation in 1995 run by Russian gangster Vyacheslav Ivankov, their investigation revealed ties between that criminal organization and Fetisov, who helped win the 1997 Stanley cup for the Detroit Red Wings.
And Pavel Bure, who skates now for the Florida Panthers, has had a close relationship with controversial Russian businessman and politician Anzor Kikalishvili. The cameras follow Bure, a national hero in Russia, on the party circuit in Moscow, as he picks up awards, visits with top political figures and spends a lot of time in Kikalishvili's company. The FBI's Jim Moody says the FBI and Russian law-enforcement believe Kikalishvilli is the co-head of an organized crime organization. He has been banned from further travel to the U.S.
Both Bure and Fetisov deny any wrong-doing. In his interview with FRONTLINE, Bure defends his relationship with Kikalishvili. "He is my friend and I really like him as a man...I know all those rumors about him but it's [just] rumors."
While the NHL in recent years has conducted their own private investigation into allegations of player-Russian mob associations, they say there is no hard proof of misconduct. Interviewed by FRONTLINE about the Bure-Kikalishvili relationship, NHL legal counsel Bill Daly says, "it's a relationship we're concerned about and a relationship we're monitoring."
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