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Former team owner Tinkov diagnosed with leukemia as he fights extradition to USA

Russian billionaire was often at center of controversy during two stints as a team owner in the WorldTour.

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Flamboyant former team owner Oleg Tinkov confirmed reports he’s been diagnosed with leukemia.

The diagnosis comes as the 52-year-old Russian billionaire, currently living in London, is trying to fend off an extradition order to appear before a U.S. court for tax fraud for under-reporting income, according to U.S. tax officials.

The sometimes-controversial Tinkov owned two cycling teams and was often an outspoken critic of cycling’s old guard. Speaking to a Russian news outlet, Tinkov said the cancer diagnosis was why he’s lately been out of the public eye.

“In recent days, I did not appear in public, which caused some questions and speculation, especially in light of the fact that the trial is ongoing,” Tinkov said in a statement. “And although I did not want to disclose the details, it seems that the time has come to inform you that I have been diagnosed with an acute form of leukemia.”

Tinkov is currently in London, where his lawyers are trying to fend off efforts by U.S. authorities to prosecute him for back-taxes. A London court has set a $25 million bail and imposed a curfew that he must stay within his $8.5 million apartment overnight. Tinkov was also ordered to surrender his passport and must be in touch with authorities several times a week to confirm he’s following court orders.

“With regards to questions from the United States on my past taxes, my lawyers are working on that, while I use my strength to fight my true enemy,” Tinkov said of leukemia. “Thank God, everything is fine with my business. We have a great leadership team. I moved away from operational activities a few years ago, so everything is going according to plan.”

Tinkov allegedly concealed $1 billion in income and assets when he gave up his U.S. citizenship in 2013, the justice department said in a statement in March. Tinkov faces two counts of making false tax claims, which could see a maximum sentence of three years apiece as well as other fines and restitution, U.S. officials said.

Tinkov is the founder of the TCS Group financial services company with backing from investors, including Goldman-Sachs, and it’s grown into the second-largest issuer of credit cards in Russia. Following an IPO in late 2013 on the London Stock Exchange, Tinkov was later ranked among the top-50 wealthiest Russians, with a fortune estimated at $2.6 billion.

A son of a coal-miner, Tinkov started building his fortune in the final days of the Soviet empire, selling shoes and jeans he would import from western Europe. He later started a chain of beer breweries, and founded in 2006 one of Russia’s first credit card companies. That grew into a full-service bank called TCS Group, and Tinkov retains control of 40 percent of the publicly traded stock, though he has stepped back from management of the company.

A former amateur racer, Tinkov was an avid cyclist, and founded a third-level team called Tinkoff Restaurants in 2006 with an all-Russian lineup. He changed the name to Tinkoff Credit System the following two seasons and signed such controversial riders as Tyler Hamilton and Jorg Jaksche, both linked to the 2006 doping scandal Operación Puerto. After the 2008 season, he sold the team’s license to Igor Makarov in what would become the Katusha team, which shuttered at the end of 2019.

Tinkov returned to racing as a co-sponsor of Saxo Bank-Tinkoff, and then bought the racing license of Saxo Bank team-owner and manager Bjarne Riis at the end of 2013. The Dane stayed on as manager of the newly branded Tinkoff-Saxo in 2014 team featuring Alberto Contador. Peter Sagan joined in 2015 for one of the highest contracts ever paid in cycling, but Riis was doomed to an early exit after conflicts with Tinkov. The team folded at the end of the 2016 season.