TOKYO: Beleaguered Tokyo 2020 Olympic organizers will be hoping for some warm words of comfort from the International Olympic Committee when senior officials arrive for talks on Wednesday.
Controversy has once again cast a shadow over Japan’s preparations for the 2020 Games after French prosecutors launched an investigation into $2 million in payments allegedly paid to help Tokyo secure the Olympics.
John Coates, chairman of the IOC’s Tokyo 2020 coordination commission, attempted to deflect attention away from potentially sticky issues on previous visits, such as last year’s row over the cost of the main stadium.
As scandal-hit Tokyo organizers sweat over the French probe into cash funneled into a Singapore bank account, said to have been paid to the son of disgraced former athletics chief Lamine Diack, Japanese officials will be more grateful than ever for the usual IOC platitudes.
However, Coates and his team are likely to face tough questions over the alleged bribery suspicions despite strong denials of any wrongdoing by Tokyo 2020 bid leaders, who acknowledge the money was paid but stress it was a legitimate consultancy fee.
Allegations the payments were improper, first reported by Britain’s Guardian newspaper two weeks ago, sent shockwaves through Japan.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered full cooperation with French authorities after being grilled by opposition leaders in Japan’s parliament.
“For Japan, as a democratic country, the use of bribes and dirty money brings dishonor to the country,” said Katsuya Okada, president of Japan’s Democratic Party. “We need to clarify all the facts.”
The Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) — headed by Tsunekazu Takeda, the same man who fronted the Tokyo bid team — has ordered its own probe.
JOC officials said Wednesday its probe team, comprising two lawyers and a certified accountant, will hold its first meeting on Thursday on the sidelines of the IOC visit.
Questioned by opposition lawmakers in parliament, JOC board member Eisuke Hiraoka said they have no intention of seeking the whereabouts of Singapore-based consultant Ian Tan Tong Han, allegedly the initial recipient of the payments.
“We don’t think it’s appropriate for us to contact the suspect under French and Singaporean investigations,” Hiraoka said, provoking criticism from opposition lawmakers that the JOC probe may unearth few facts to prove Tokyo’s bid activities were “clean.”
Takeda has refused to disclose details of the consultancy contract to lawmakers, citing a “confidentiality obligation”.
He told lawmakers on Tuesday that the payments “were compensations for a consultancy contract, and we’d never thought that the money would be sent to Mr. Diack”.
With the Rio Olympics less than three months away, regular coordination activities have been postponed to later in the year and replaced by an executive meeting, although Coates is expected to inspect the Tokyo 2020 sailing venue.
Tokyo has been hit by a series of controversies since beating Istanbul and Madrid in September 2013 in the race to host the coveted Summer Games.
Prime Minister Abe pulled the plug on the original plan for the new Olympic stadium last year amid public anger over its $2 billion price tag.
Further embarrassment followed when Tokyo organizers ditched their 2020 Games logo after allegations of plagiarism and the threat of legal action from a Belgian designer who claimed it too closely resembled the emblem of a theatre in Liege, Belgium.
However, those fiascos pale in comparison to accusations of murky payments made to Tan of Singapore firm Black Tidings, who said to be an associate of Diack’s son Papa Massata Diack.
The junior Diack received cash transfers from Asia in July 2013 and bought 130,000 euros ($145,000) worth of luxury items including watches, a source close to the French investigation has told Agence France-Presse.