In the immediate aftermath of his former KHL coach, Andrei Nazarov, claiming that he beat an 18-year-old woman at a hotel in Riga, Latvia 10 years ago, New York Rangers star winger Artemi Panarin has not seen a single other person or organization corroborate those claims.
Nazarov — a former NHL player and vocal supporter of Russian president Vladimir Putin — told Russian and pro-Kremlin tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda that the incident took place following a Vityaz Chekhov game on Dec. 11, 2011. He claimed Panarin sent the woman “to the floor with several powerful blows,” and was detained by police before bribing his way out of charges with “40,000 euros in cash.”
In the statement shortly after Panarin announced a leave of absence from the Rangers on Monday, the team “vehemently denied” the accusations, adding that this was “an intimidation tactic being used against him for being outspoken on recent political events.”
Panarin is a vocal supporter of one of the most noted Putin opposers, Andrei Navalny, who was imprisoned earlier this month after a Moscow court turned his suspended sentence from a 2014 criminal case for fraud into a full custodial term.
Just six months earlier, Navalny was poisoned with the Novichok nerve agent — a Soviet-era chemical weapon — in an attempted murder back in August where he recovered in Germany. Many suspect that it was Putin and the Kremlin who carried out the assassination attempt.
In January, Panarin posted a photo on Instagram of Navalny and his family with a caption that read “Freedom for Navalny,” which is believed to be what prompted Nazarov to go on record and hurl these allegations at the now-2
Since the Panarin and the Rangers announced the leave of absence, multiple teammates have gone on record saying that such an incident did not happen.
On Monday, KHL reporter Igor Eronko said multiple of Panarin’s former Vityaz teammates told him that Nazarov’s accusations were “absolutely false.” Five of Panarin’s former teammates also told the New York Post’s Mollie Walker that they “never heard” of such an incident happening.
Panarin’s roommate during his time at Vityaz, Mikhail Anisin, told Russian website Sport-Express that there was an encounter with a group of young women where a verbal conflict ensued. However, Anisin claimed that “the maximum that could be [was that Panarin] slightly pushed one of the girls away.”
According to Anisin, authorities were called and they “found something. But I won’t really say what.” As for the bribe of 40,000 euros, “we couldn’t have that kind of money.”
“It is disgusting to see how this story, which was 10 years ago, was inflated,” Anisin said. “I really swear, there was nothing serious there.”
Another KHL reporter, Aivis Kalniņš, of FullPressHockey.com, added on Wednesday that Latvian authorities do not have a police report from the alleged incident. Meanwhile, KHL officials told ESPN that they have “not been aware of or received a complaint in relation to any incident involving Artemi Panarin in December 2011.”