Defence claims racial motive in Lee bribery trial

A defence lawyer in the trial of two top boxing officials accused of taking bribes, has claimed the men were the victims of a racially motivated government probe that gave a "free pass" to the white promoters who testified against them.

A defence lawyer in the trial of two top boxing officials accused of taking bribes, has claimed the men were the victims of a racially motivated government probe that gave a "free pass" to the white promoters who testified against them.

"Race is an issue in this case," defence attorney Gerald Krovatin told the jury during closing arguments at the federal racketeering trial of Robert Lee Snr, the president of the International Boxing Federation and his son, Robert Lee Jnr. "We're in a situation where some people have gotten a free pass and two people, a man and his son, sit at that [defence] table," he said. "And I submit to you, ladies and gentlemen, that's not fair, that's not right. Is race a factor? I submit that it is."

The two Lees and two other former IBF officials are named in a 32-count indictment charging them with taking $338,000 (£215,000) in bribes between 1985 and 1989. All have denied the charges.

Wiping away tears as Lee Snr's wife sobbed in a US District Court, Krovatin told the jury that Lee Snr was a "quiet, reserved and dignified man", who had dedicated 17 years to the IBF, one of boxing's major organisations.

The portrait contrasted sharply with the government's portrayal of Lee as a greedy manipulator who held out his hand for cash in hotel rooms and penalised deserving boxers who refused to pay for hisinfluence.

Using an oversized chart and videos secretly taped by FBI agents, the assistant US attorney, Marc Agnifilo, described a web of intrigue and clandestine meetings in Manhattan hotel rooms and coffee shops where money changed hands. Payments were coded as "turkey".

Krovatin countered that Lee "gave 824 men a chance to do something they loved - the chance to fight." The attorney called the alleged bribes "gratuities" that Lee "was entitled to and which are not unlawful".

The payments included one for $100,000 (£660,000) made by the promoter Bob Arum, the head of the Nevada-based Top Rank Inc, to let the heavyweight champion George Foreman defend his title against Axel Schulz. The money was paid in addition to a $150,000 sanctioning fee.

Promoters Cedric Kushner and Dino Duva also testified they had paid Lee for favours, and the government alleged that another promoter, Don King, made regular payments.

If convicted, Lee Snr faces a maximum 20 years imprisonment on charges of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy and money laundering and fines of up to $1m.

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