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New York Rangers star Artemi Panarin is taking a leave of absence from the team after he was accused of beating an 18-year-old girl in Latvia in 2011.
The allegations that surfaced in Russian media are being described as “politically motivated” as they come a month after Panarin voiced his support for highly influential Vladimir Putin critic Alexei Navalny last month.
He posted a picture of Navalny, his wife and their two children on Instagram with the caption “Freedom for Navalny.”
The New York Post noted that the allegation comes from his former Russian coach Andrei Nazarov, a Putin supporter who has publicly criticized Panarin for his anti-government talk.
The Rangers released a statement on the issue Monday.
“Artemi vehemently and unequivocally denies any and all allegations in this fabricated story. 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 said.
“The Rangers fully support Artemi and will work with him to identify the source of these unfounded allegations.”
Panarin signed with the Chicago Blackhawks after playing in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League between 2008 and 2015. He played two seasons with the Blackhawks, two seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets and is in his second with the Rangers.
In a 2019 interview, Panarin criticized the Russian president, saying he “no longer understands what’s right and what’s wrong.”
“Psychologically, it’s not easy for him to judge the situation soberly,” Panarin said at the time, via Sports Illustrated. “He has a lot of people who influence his decisions. But if everyone is walking around you for 20 years telling you what a great guy you are and how great a job you are doing, you will never see your mistakes.”
Panarin has family in Russia.
Fox News’ Paulina Dedaj contributed to this report.
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