The Jan. 15 press announcement by Tsunekazu Takeda, head of the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC), left more questions than answers about the latest developments that are casting doubts on the legitimacy of Japan's bid to host the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
The event came on the heels of a full-fledged investigation launched by French judicial authorities over suspicions of bribery by Takeda regarding activities he led as the head of the Tokyo bid committee. But the press opportunity lasted for only seven minutes, with Takeda one-sidedly insisting on his innocence by reading out a prepared statement. He didn't even take questions from reporters citing the ongoing French probe as his reason.
The allegations, first reported by a British newspaper in May 2016, center around a contract the bid panel signed with a consultant in Singapore. The committee wired a total of 230 million yen to the company shortly before and after September 2013, when Tokyo was awarded the right to host the international athletic meet. A portion of the money is suspected to have been diverted to an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member and his family member.
After the news broke, the JOC set up a probe team with third parties and concluded in a report that there was no illegality in the deal.
Takeda emphasized to reporters that the payment was "appropriate compensation" for the work done by the recipient, and he was not aware of close ties between the consultancy and the IOC member and others.
These statements are in line with the conclusion of the investigation team. Takeda may think that the case is already closed, but such a view is naive considering the fact that an active investigation is still ongoing.
The JOC report was compiled without the cooperation of the IOC member and others who could have offered insight into the flow of the wired money. Nevertheless, the Japanese panel tried to settle the matter, saying that "the allegations are cleared." The panel did not carry out a thorough investigation and rushed to close the book on the matter, potentially inviting the latest problem as a result.
The visitation of candidate Olympic host cities by IOC members with voting power to select the winner has been prohibited after a corruption scandal surrounding the bid to host the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002.
This ban has brought greater importance to consultants who lobby IOC members for bidding cities.
The money sent by the Japanese bid committee in 2013 is suspected as a slush fund linked to the bidding effort. How the money was spent by the consultant should be explained in a responsible manner. Leaving the matter as it is may tarnish the image of the Tokyo Games. Takeda should come forward and make relevant information public.