The New York Rangers on Monday said star player Artemi Panarin denies allegations that he assaulted a woman a decade ago, adding that the claims were fabricated to hurt him due to his support for imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
"Artemi vehemently and unequivocally denies any and all allegations in this fabricated story," the NHL team said in a statement. “This is clearly an intimidation tactic being used against him for being outspoken on recent political events."
“Artemi is obviously shaken and concerned and will take some time away from the team," it added. "The Rangers fully support Artemi and will work with him to identify the source of these unfounded allegations."
As Reuters reports, Panarin is one of a few Russian athletes who have spoken out against Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinErdoğan says Turkey plans to buy another Russian defense system EU 'denounces' Russian malicious cyber activity aimed at member states Navalny knocks Apple, Google for removing voting app MORE. Panarin has also voiced his support for Navalny, who was detained by authorities upon returning to Russia from Germany last month.
Andrei Nazarov, a former NHL player who once coached Panarin, told a Russian sports website last week that the 29-year-old Rangers winger was detained for beating up an 18-year-old woman in Latvia in 2011, according to Reuters. The news service notes that Nazarov has been critical of Panarin's support for Navalny in the past.
Navalny was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison in early February for violating parole while recovering from his poisoning in Germany. His imprisonment has drawn international outcry, with the European Court of Human Rights demanding his release. President Biden has also condemned Russia for Navalny's imprisonment calling it "politically-motivated."