Billy Joe Saunders’ WBO middleweight title defence against Georgia’s Avtandil Khurtsidze has been cancelled after the challenger was arrested amid alleged links with organised crime.
The pair had been scheduled to fight on July 8 at London’s Copper Box Arena, but the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York has revealed that 33 members and associates of a Russian crime syndicate, including Khurtsidze, had been arrested.
The charges involved are for “racketeering, extortion, robbery, murder-for-hire conspiracy, fraud, narcotics, and firearms offences”, and the fighter’s promoter Lou DiBella has since confirmed he will be unable to travel to fight.
In a statement, acting Manhattan US Attorney Joon H Kim said: “We have charged 33 members and associates of a Russian organised crime syndicate allegedly engaging a panoply of crimes around the country.
“The indictments include charges against the alleged head of this national criminal enterprise, one of the first federal racketeering charges ever brought against a Russian ‘vor’ (which refers to “an order of elite criminals from the former Soviet Union who receive tribute from other criminals”).
“The dizzying array of criminal schemes committed by this organised 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.
“Thanks to the remarkable inter-agency partnership of FBI, CBP, and NYPD, we have charged and arrested 33 defendants allegedly involved in this criminal enterprise.”
Khurtsidze last fought in Leicester in April when he defeated Tommy Langford, who like Saunders is promoted by Frank Warren.
Warren’s Queensberry Promotions intends to retain the July 8 date in the absence of its main event, and released a statement on Thursday afternoon which read: “We were informed that Billy Joe Saunders’ mandatory challenger Avtandil Khurtsidze was yesterday arrested in New York, indicted under the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations) Act.
“As such, his contest with WBO world middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders, scheduled for Saturday 8th July at the Copper Box Arena, cannot take place on that date as his promoter Lou DiBella has confirmed he will be unable to travel.
“The event at the Copper Box Arena on July 8th, televised on BT Sport and BoxNation, will still take place and feature fantastic fights including the WBO European light-heavyweight championship contest between Richard Baranyi and Anthony Yarde, the return of teenage heavyweight sensation Daniel Dubois and the eagerly anticipated rematch between Darryll Williams and Jahmaine Smyle for the English super-middleweight title; with further additions to the card to follow in due course.
“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.
“Further information, including additions to the show, ticketing and refund options, will follow in due course.”