New York Rangers superstar winger Artemi Panarin is taking a leave of absence from the team after what is being described as a “political hit piece” from his former head coach in the KHL — Russia’s top professional league — Andrei Nazarov, alleging that he beat up an 18-year-old woman in his home country in 2011.
Larry Brooks of the New York Post first reported that Panarin would be taking a leave of absence.
Panarin has been an outspoken opponent of the current Russian president, Vladimir Putin. The 29-year-old posted a photo on Instagram on Jan. 21 expressing his support of the Kremlin’s most notable opposer, Alexei Navalny, with the caption “Freedom for Navalny.”
Navalny was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison earlier this month after a Moscow court turned his suspended sentence in a 2014 criminal case for fraud into a full custodial term. This after he recovered from being poisoned by the Novichok nerve agent, a Soviet-era chemical weapon, back in August. Many believe that it was Putin and the Kremlin who carried out the assassination attempt.
Speaking with Sports.ru, Nazarov said that Panrin “sent an 18-year-old citizen of Latvia to the floor with several powerful blows,” as translated from Russian.
“Negotiations were held with the police authorities,” Nazarov said after recalling that Panarin was detained by police. “I did not participate in the negotiations, but I heard about the figure of 40,000 euros in cash for putting the brakes on the case.
“We did not even apologize to the parents of the girl who suffered from Panarin, and to her herself. But they did everything to prevent our rising star from thundering into jail. Didn’t ruin a career… What is now clear is that we were wrong then. Artemy did not deserve to be saved from punishment by the whole world for the fact that he beat the girl.”
Panarin has denied such accusations as reflected from a statement by the Rangers released on Monday morning.
“Artemi vehemently and unequivocally denies any and all allegations in this fabricated story,” the team’s statement read. “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.
“The Rangers fully support Artemi and will work with him to identify the source of these unfounded allegations.”
One of Panarin’s most outspoken interviews regarding Putin came in July of 2019, shortly after signing with the Rangers, when he appeared on Vsemu Golovin’s YouTube channel.
“I think he no longer understands what’s right and what’s wrong,” Panarin said of Putin. “Psychologically, it’s not easy for him soberly judge the situation… I am not saying this because I see any kind of profit for myself in this. I want the people to live better, for teachers and doctors to have better salaries.
“I don’t want some ballerinas (referring to former dancer Anastasia Volochkova) to say, ‘If you don’t like it here, you can leave!’ This is raving madness! Everyone has left already, all the brains are gone. This shouldn’t be happening.”
Those views are believed to be the main reason why he is taking this leave of absence to ensure his family is safe and protected back in Russia, per USA Today’s Vince Mercogliano.
This story first appeared on our sister publication amny.com.