Feds Probe Olympic Gun Transfer
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ A pistol said to have been given to IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch by Salt Lake City organizers is among those drawing the attention of federal investigators trying to determine if the shipment of the weapons was illegal.
The engraved 9mm high-power pistol made by Browning Arms Co. of Mountain Green, Utah, is in the International Olympic Committee museum in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The pistol was sold to Salt Lake organizers in 1991, according to Rich Bauter, Browning vice president of marketing.
He said he has no way of knowing who got the gun. The Salt Lake Tribune reported Wednesday it was given to Samaranch.
The Salt Lake Organizing Committee’s ethics investigation into the scandal surrounding the 2002 Winter Games found that Samaranch received a limited edition pistol donated by Browning.
Bauter said the guns weren’t donated, but as many as 10 were sold at cost to organizers ``because we wanted to help bring the Olympics to Utah.″
Whether Samaranch _ or someone else _ sent the pistol back to Lausanne or it was shipped by organizers remains unclear. Either way, the transfer may have violated federal weapons laws.
The State Department is required to approve shipments of weapons leaving the country. Violators could be charged under federal law with felony exportation of a firearm without a permit, ATF spokesman Larry Bettendorf told The Tribune.
In January, it was disclosed that Samaranch received firearms worth at least $2,000 as gifts during Salt Lake City’s winning bid for the 2002 Winter Games. At the time, it was reported that the IOC chief had received two rifles and a shotgun, all made by Browning, and possibly a handgun.
Samaranch said he didn’t want to insult Salt Lake City by refusing the guns.
``Every time I travel I get gifts,″ Samaranch said in January. ``Of course Utah, Salt Lake City, is a state where guns are very popular. I have visited Salt Lake City twice and I got a gun both times. I took it to Switzerland.″
Federal law prohibits unlicensed dealers from exporting firearms from the country.
In Lausanne, IOC spokesman Franklin Servan-Schreiber said, ``We are not aware that this is an issue,″ and declined further comment.
Italian IOC member Mario Pescante said today the controversy over the guns was part of an organized campaign in the United States against Samaranch.
``I find it very strange that this campaign starts at the very moment that Samaranch finds the right way to resolve our problems,″ he said.
Shelley Thomas, SLOC’s vice-president of communications, said she ``has no clue″ how the guns got to Europe.
``The bid committee, being a separate entity, and with the Department of Justice investigating, we have no access to any of those kinds of records,″ she said Wednesday.
Thomas said the SLOC’s attorneys have not been contacted by investigators regarding the shipments.
Justice Department spokesman Brian Steel refused to discuss the case, saying only that the department ``continues investigating allegations of impropriety in connection with the Salt Lake City bid.″
Mike Bukovac, agent in charge of the Salt Lake City office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, confirmed that ``we have done some interviews″ regarding the guns.
The ATF is among the federal agencies participating in the Justice Department’s investigation of lavish treatment, gifts, and cash payments given to IOC officials during Salt Lake’s bid.
Bauter said federal agents touched on the gun shipments in an interview with Browning officials earlier this year. He said the meeting dealt with guns sold to organizers over a period dating back to Salt Lake’s first Olympic bid.