Mikhail Khodorkovsky

Sochi corruption allegation

Gian Franco Kasper, the president of FIS, the influential international ski federation, says one-third of the more than $50-billion cost of the upcoming Sochi 2014 Winter Games has simply been embezzled. A Swiss member of the International Olympic Committee, Kasper made the provocative assertion in an interview Wednesday with Switzerland’s state broadcaster, SRF.

Kasper did not provide details. Instead, speaking in German, he said corruption appeared to be an “every day” matter in Russia.

Ski federation president Gian-Franco Kasper speaking on Swiss TV

The question now — to evoke a famous aphorism in Russian history — is what is to be done with Kasper’s remarks.

And, of course, what, if anything, is behind the timing of such allegations. As of Friday, the Feb. 7 opening ceremony is 28 days away.

In a follow-up interview Friday with Associated Press, Kasper stood by his remarks: “I didn’t say anything which I wouldn’t have said two years ago.”

He said the one-third figure for corrupt spending is “what everybody says in Russia,” not based on inside knowledge or direct evidence.

In Friday’s telephone interview with the AP’s Graham Dunbar, a respected Geneva-based sports correspondent, Kasper said, “One-third is disappearing. It’s not only in Russia that in certain businesses there is always a part disappearing.”

Kasper said money purportedly diverted for illicit reasons involved Russian sources, not the IOC or its commercial partners. He said $13 billion was specifically allocated toward the Games; the rest, he said, was for separate transport or construction projects.

In the SRF interview, Kasper noted that security at the 2014 Games would likely be intense.

He declared, too, that Russian president Vladimir Putin had an “ice-cold” personality. He said the recent release of prisoners — such as two members of the feminist band Pussy Riot, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, as well Greenpeace activists and the former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky — were PR stunts aimed at boosting Russia’s image ahead of the opening ceremony.

Kasper said he feared “heartless Games.”

In speaking Friday with the AP, Kasper said Putin was a passionate sports fan but politically calculating: “He is [a] very strong, ice-cold man. That was not negative.”

Kasper has been an IOC member since 2000. He sits on the Sochi 2014 coordination commission, the IOC’s primary link to the project, a panel led by France’s Jean-Claude Killy, the 1968 triple ski gold medalist, himself an IOC member since 1995.

Again, Kasper leads the ski federation, arguably the most important of the seven winter sports. That lends his remarks a certain gravity.

It was just a little over 15 years ago that another Swiss, Marc Hodler, himself the FIS president from 1951 to 1998, launched the corruption scandal tied to Salt Lake City’s winning bid for the 2002 Winter Olympics. Is this the start of another such episode?

Activists and critics of the Sochi project have for many months now sought to gain the world’s attention about cost overruns connected with the 2014 Games. Examples abound.

It can be very different, however, when a member -- particularly a very senior member -- of the IOC levels such an accusation.

The Christian Science Monitor on Friday reached out to Boris Nemtsov, a former Russian deputy prime minister who has since turned Kremlin critic, the author of a study that alleges up to $30 billion has been stolen in the lead-up to the 2014 Games. He said of the IOC, “They are obliged to pay attention to this.”

In Salt Lake City, it must be noted, accounting was transparent. An open media and the pressure of a vibrant court system helped lead, too, to the truth. Can the same circumstances be said of Russia?

Moreover, of Kasper’s credibility it must be observed he is the gentleman who said in 2005, when women ski jumpers were vying for a place in the Winter Games he was not sure it was suitable for their bodies.

“Don’t forget,” he said then in an interview with NPR, “it’s like jumping down from, let’s say, about two meters on the ground about a thousand times a year, which seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view.”

Women’s ski jumping makes its Olympic debut at the 2014 Sochi Games.