Aydin Ibrahimov: 1964 Bronze Medalist and Art Thief

Aydın İbrahimov younger
Aydin Ibrahimov (right)

Aydin Ibrahimov was a powerful bantamweight freestyle wrestler, a strong favorite for gold at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He was also implicated in a stranger-than-fiction crime, details of which are sketchy at best.

Competing for the Soviet Union, Ibrahimov was hoping to be the second Olympic medalist from the region of Azerbaijan after bantamweight wrestler, Rashid Mammadbeyov, won silver at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. He defeated wrestlers from Mexico, Canada, Finland and Korea before making it to the medal round, only to fall to Akbas of Turkey, and eventual gold medalist, Yojiro Uetake. He settled for bronze, and presumably a life of glory in his hometown of Kirovabad.

But in the 1990s, Ibrahimov and wife were in the news in what authors, David Wallechinsky and Jaime Loucky, in their bountiful tome, The Complete Book of the Olympics (2012 Edition), called a “bizarre crime”. Let me have them explain it:

In the 1990s, bronze medalist Aydyn Ali Ibragimov was involved in a bizarre crime in which twelve works of art, including rare drawings by Albrecht Durer and Rembrandt, were stolen from the National Fire Arms Museum in Baku, Azerbaijan, and offered for sale to pay for a kidney transplant for a former Japanese wrestler. Ibragimov’s wife was sentenced to a term in federal prison in the United States, but Ibragimov himself disappeared.

According to Today.AZ (An Azerbaijan English news internet site), actually 274 works of art were stolen in July of 1993, after which they were uncovered in the United States thanks to joint operations between national central bureaus of Interpol in Washington, Wiesbaden, Germany and presumably Azerbaijani authorities. It was reported that the works of art were returned to their owners both in Germany and Azerbaijan, and that Ibrahimov left the USA to turn himself into Azerbaijani authorities after an international notice to find Ibrahimov was issued by Interpol.

Aydın İbrahimov older

In 2007, Ibrahimov was tried for robbery and smuggling at the Azerbaijani Court of Grave Crimes, where his lawyers petitioned and got a preliminary sentencing of house arrest due to Ibrahimov’s then poor health and the fact that he was still a national hero.

As for why he committed the crime – the fascinating tidbit about how the money was to pay for a kidney transplant of a Japanese wrestler – I’m still looking for confirmation. Let me know if you know!