As Olympic bribe claims widen, ex-Tokyo bidding committee head says payments were legitimate

AP, Staff Report

With French prosecutors now investigating whether corruption played a part in Tokyo’s winning bid for the 2020 Olympics, Japanese officials are under pressure to be more transparent about a bidding process they have repeatedly said was clean.

In the months immediately before and after the 2013 Olympic vote, 2.8 million Singapore dollars ($2 million) is thought to have been transferred in two segments from a bank in Japan to the account in Singapore of a company called Black Tidings, French prosecutors said Thursday. The transactions were marked “Tokyo 2020 Olympic Game Bid.”

“We will ask the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Japanese Olympic Committee to confirm facts without delay,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at the Lower House plenary session Friday.

Tsunekazu Takeda, former president of the Tokyo 2020 Bidding Committee, issued a statement Friday, reaffirming that the Olympic Games were awarded to Tokyo “as a result of a fair competition and as a result of the contents of our bid.”

“The Tokyo 2020 Bid Committee can confirm that it paid an amount for the professional services received for the following consultation work including; the planning of the bid; tutoring on presentation practice; advices for international lobbying communications; and service for information and media analysis. All these services were properly contracted using accepted business practices,” the statement said.

The Democratic Party, meanwhile, set up a special task force Friday charged with investigating the matter.

Speaking to reporters Friday, DP Diet affairs chief Jun Azumi expressed a strong resolve to demand that the government scrutinize the facts of the case, calling the allegation “intolerable.”

“If the claims made by the French authorities are true, what happened is almost criminal,” Azumi said. “We are determined to pursue the matter in the Diet no matter who is involved or in what country.”

Black Tidings is quickly earning a dubious reputation. Its account also was used to transfer funds in the cover-up of a Russian doping case, according to a World Anti-Doping Agency investigation. And the sports marketing consultant identified by WADA as the account holder has been closely tied to the family that ruled track and field for 16 years via a former member of the International Olympic Committee.

That member, Lamine Diack, was also president of the International Association of Athletics Federations and one of the most influential men in sports. He is under investigation in France for suspected corruption, barred from leaving the country while the magistrates’ probe continues.

His son, former IAAF marketing consultant Papa Massata Diack, is also wanted in France on bribery, money laundering and corruption charges, but is thought to beliving in his native Senegal, out of reach of French magistrates. The international police organization Interpol has put him on its “Red Notice” list of internationally wanted suspected criminals.

One of Papa Massata Diack’s “very close” friends, Ian Tan Tong Han, is the holder of the Black Tidings account, according to WADA’s investigation. They were so close that Tan named his child, born in 2014, “Massata,” according to the WADA probe.

Funds from Black Tidings also were used to buy jewels in Paris worth some €150,000 ($170,000), according to two sources with knowledge of the probe. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of French secrecy laws governing judicial investigations. The purchases could strengthen French prosecutors’ arguments that they are legally entitled to investigate the Diacks.

The widening of the probe to the 2020 Olympic bidding process will put heavy pressure on the IOC, which has sought to distance itself from the corruption scandals at FIFA and the IAAF and insisted that it had cleaned up since a bid scandal more than 15 years ago over the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

“The IOC Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer has been in contact with the French magistrates in charge of the investigation on the IAAF case, and with WADA, since its start,” an IOC spokesman said in a statement, adding that the officer “will continue to be in contact with all interested parties to clarify any alleged improper conduct.”

It’s not the first time Japan has been linked to Olympic bidding irregularities. Japanese boosters lavished millions of dollars on IOC delegates during Nagano’s winning bid for the 1998 Winter Games, according to a report ordered by the region’s governor that called the sum an “illegitimate and excessive level of hospitality.”

Nagano burned most of its bid records after the Salt Lake scandal, which led to the resignation or expulsion of 10 IOC members and a ban on member visits to bid cities.

“Like any other organization, we are not immune to wrongdoing,” IOC President Thomas Bach said Thursday in a statement for an anti-corruption conference in London. “In such cases, we have a proven record of swift action.”

The French prosecutors probing suspected corruption by the Diacks said they were told the transfers to Singapore occurred in July and October 2013. Tokyo was chosen in September 2013 as the 2020 host, beating Madrid and Istanbul in an IOC vote in Buenos Aires.

As an IOC member at the time, the elder Diack had a vote. As a high-profile figure, he also could influence blocs of votes.

He stepped down as IAAF president in August, and resigned as an honorary IOC member in November, a day after he was provisionally suspended by the IOC executive board. He served as a full IOC member for 15 years until 2014.

“As a result of our action, he no longer has any position in the IOC,” chief ethics and compliance officer Paquerette Girard Zappelli said Thursday. “Nevertheless, we continue to actively look into the matter and have become a civil party to the French investigation.”

A call to the office of a lawyer in France for Lamine Diack rang unanswered Thursday evening. The lawyer, Daouda Diop, has previously refused to comment on Diack’s case to The Associated Press.

The French prosecutors said they received information of the two “Tokyo 2020 Olympic Game Bid” transfers in December. The prosecutors did not identify the source of their information nor say what the funds were for. But their office said it has evidence of “important purchases” in Paris financed by Black Tidings. It did not detail the purchases.

Based on this and other evidence, the office said it opened an investigation on Dec. 24, separate from their already existing and ongoing probe of the Diacks, “to determine the nature of the transactions … and to verify if acts of corruption and money laundering were committed in the process of designating the host city of the 2020 Olympic Games.”