Khurtsidze indicted on conspiracy charges
Interim middleweight world titleholder Avtandil Khurtsidze was arrested and indicted Wednesday in New York as part of a federal government roundup of 33 people accused of involvement in a New York-based Russian and Georgian crime syndicate allegedly involved in racketeering, robbery and murder-for-hire, among other illicit activity.
On Thursday, promoter Frank Warren, reacting to the news, announced that the mandatory fight between world titleholder Billy Joe Saunders, whom he promotes, and Khurtsidze has been postponed. They were due to meet in the main event on July 8 at the Copper Box Arena in London. Warren said the rest of the show will go on as planned.
Warren said that Khurtsidze promoter Lou DiBella confirmed that the fighter would be unable to travel and that the fight was off.
"We are currently planning to postpone the fight to a later date. However, due to the obvious seriousness of this matter, Queensberry Promotions are given no choice but to wait for more details to emerge before anything can be confirmed," Warren said in a statement.
Khurtsidze was one of 33 defendants named in the indictment unsealed Wednesday by the Department of Justice in Manhattan federal court.
Khurtsidze, 38, who is from the Republic of Georgia but fights out of Brooklyn, New York, is accused of conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Each felony charge carries up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.
"We have charged 33 members and associates of a Russian organized crime syndicate allegedly engaging a panoply of crimes around the country," acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said in a statement about the case.
Kim added that the "dizzying array of criminal schemes committed by this organized crime syndicate allegedly include a murder-for-hire conspiracy, a plot to rob victims by seducing and drugging them with chloroform, the theft of cargo shipments containing over 10,000 pounds of chocolate, and a fraud on casino slot machines using electronic hacking devices."
The alleged crime syndicate, while based in New York, also operated in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida and Nevada and abroad, according to the Department of Justice. It added that most members of the "Shulaya Enterprise were born in the former Soviet Union and many maintained substantial ties to Georgia, the Ukraine, and the Russian Federation, including regular travel to those countries, communication with associates in those countries, and the transfer of criminal proceeds to individuals in those countries."
Khurtsidze (33-2-2, 22 KOs) won a vacant interim middleweight belt by knocking out Tommy Langford in the fifth round on April 22 in Leicester, England. That set the stage for the mandatory bout with England's Saunders (24-0, 12 KOs), who was ringside. At the post-fight news conference the two got into a heated exchange filled with foul-mouthed trash talk and they had to be separated. Khurtsidze had just arrived back in New York from Georgia on Wednesday and was taken into custody. The arrest shocked DiBella.
"We were as blindsided by this news as everyone else," Alex Dombroff, DiBella's attorney, told ESPN. "At this point we're still gathering information regarding the extent and nature of the indictment, but I think it is telling that Khurtsidze's name was not mentioned in the body of the Department of Justice's press release. We have offered to work with Frank Warren to ensure Billy Joe Saunders still has a title defense on July 8, be it against Khurtsidze or another opponent."