Japan to probe if $2.8m payout legal

A team will look into money sent that allegedly helped Tokyo secure 2020 Games

TOKYO • The Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) yesterday announced its own probe of US$2 million (S$2.8 million) allegedly paid to secure the 2020 Games - some of which was used to buy luxury watches, according to French investigators.

The JOC will set up a special team to look into the payments, which are already being investigated by French prosecutors and have been linked to the son of former world athletics chief Lamine Diack.

Allegations that the payments were improper, first reported by Britain's The Guardian newspaper last week, have rocked Japan, which beat Istanbul and Madrid in the race to host the Summer Games in 2013.

The JOC sent the money in two tranches to the now-defunct, Singapore-based Black Tidings company, either side of the International Olympic Committee vote which awarded Tokyo the 2020 Games.

Diack, whose son Papa Massata Diack has denied receiving the money, was an IOC member at the time. Both already face corruption charges in France related to the alleged cover-up of Russian doping cases.

"We decided to launch an investigation team, including outside lawyers, to probe whether there was illegality in the (consultants') contract," JOC president Tsunekazu Takeda, who led Tokyo's bid, told lawmakers during a third straight day of questioning in parliament.

He said the JOC probe will involve "hearings from former officials of the bid committee", which dissolved after it landed the right to host the Games.

On Tuesday, Takeda refused to disclose details of the consultancy contract to lawmakers, citing a "confidentiality obligation".

Japanese officials, while acknowledging the money was paid, have denied wrongdoing and stress that the money was for consulting services related to the bid.

French prosecutors said last week that they suspect the $2.8 million was intended to help secure the 2020 Olympics. A source close to the French investigation told AFP that Papa Massata Diack received cash transfers from Asia in 2013, with the funds withdrawn in Paris. He bought €130,000 (S$201,624) worth of luxury items including watches in Paris in July 2013, the source added. The IOC vote was held that September.

Black Tidings was headed by consultant Ian Tan Tong Han, an associate of Papa Massata Diack since the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The World Anti-Doping Agency raised the alarm about the bidding process in January, after uncovering evidence during an investigation into claims of widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs.

French prosecutors have said the alleged payments were discovered as part of an inquiry into allegations that the Diacks organised bribes to cover up failed dope tests by Russian athletes. France became involved as the money may have been laundered in Paris.

The controversy follows earlier problems surrounding the Tokyo Olympics. Organisers were forced to scrap their original main stadium design because of its high cost, and also had to weather plagiarism accusations over the Games logo.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2016, with the headline 'Japan to probe if $2.8m payout legal'. Print Edition | Subscribe