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JOC head fails to clear bribery suspicions, Tokyo vows to continue prep for 2020 Games

Throngs of reporters gather for Japanese Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda's press announcement in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward on Jan. 15, 2019. The event lasted just seven minutes, with the media given no opportunity to ask questions. (Mainichi/Tatsuya Fujii)

TOKYO -- The brief public appearance by Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) President Tsunekazu Takeda Jan. 15 left questions unasked -- and thus unanswered. Experts predict that the French investigation into alleged bribery charges involving Takeda will be lengthy, creating uncertainty for the next year and a half leading up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

The news conference, which around 140 reporters from approximately 70 domestic and international news outlets attended, lasted just seven minutes. Takeda promptly left after reading from a prepared script in which he reiterated his innocence of any illicit activity, as reporters called out to him to take their questions.

Takeda explained that he had been questioned by French authorities on Dec. 10 of last year over the JOC's payment of about $2.3 million (approx. 230 million yen) in 2013, the year Tokyo won the 2020 bid, to Singaporean consultancy firm Black Tidings. The operator of the company is said to be closely tied to Papa Massata Diack, whose father is Lamine Diack, a former member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) who previously served as the president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

The payment, Takeda emphasized, had already been determined to be an appropriate contractual process. However, the team that compiled the report saying the payment was "appropriate" was found by a third-party panel of attorneys to be lacking in independence and neutrality. Furthermore, that Takeda did not take questions from the press citing "the ongoing investigation" did nothing to help clear his name.

Following the news conference, one senior JOC official remarked that Takeda did himself a disservice by not answering questions from the press. Another JOC official said that Takeda should not have even held a press conference if he wasn't going to take questions, which was said to be his own idea.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshide Suga told reporters that he would urge Takeda "to carry out his responsibility to provide an explanation that will remove all doubt. How he chooses to do so is up to him."

Fewer and fewer cities are bidding to host the Olympics due to expanding costs. Because the IOC is hoping the Tokyo Olympics will revive the "Olympic brand," the latest scandal is an extremely unwelcome one. An IOC official said that the organization will watch how the investigation unfolds, with respect for the principle of innocent until proven guilty.

--- Probe expected to last after Games

That investigation, however, is expected to take a long time. It involves multiple bribery allegations involving ex-IAAF chief Lamine Diack. Due partly to differences in Japanese and French laws, some experts believe the investigation will continue until after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

The latest allegations emerged from investigations into bribery charges over suspected doping cover-ups by the IAAF based in Monaco, where French authorities have investigative jurisdiction.

Only public servants can be charged with bribe-taking under Japanese criminal law. Under French law, however, the exchange of bribes between private entities can lead to criminal prosecution. Moreover, in serious cases in France, there are proceedings in which magistrates who have received requests from prosecutors can carry out a preliminary probe to determine whether to hold an official trial. Because the magistrate directly questions the suspect, gathers evidence, and decides whether to indict, the process can often take years.

In the latest case, some three years have passed since prosecutors began their investigation.

"That the case is undergoing a preliminary probe presupposes that indictment will take place, but if (Takeda) were to argue that he acted based on Japanese law, it's difficult to tell if he can be prosecuted," says Wang Yunhai, a comparative criminal law professor at Hitotsubashi University Graduate School of Law who is well versed in criminal law in France and other countries. "This could prolong the case."

Moreover, an investigation into alleged bribery over the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics bid is being carried out alongside the investigation into the alleged doping cover-up by the Diacks.

Another expert on the French criminal justice system says, "The main target is definitely Lamine and Papa Massata Diack. Investigators are likely looking into Takeda as they work from the outside in to uncover everything that happened."

As for the prospects of Takeda's investigation, the same expert says, "The IOC, of which (Lamine) Diack was a member, is of a highly public nature. (If the funds were passed on as bribes), the exchange of money cannot be described as a simple transaction between private individuals."

--- Tokyo focuses on Olympic preparations

When Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike appeared before reporters at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building after Takeda's press conference, she said, "As for the games, we will continue with our preparations without making a fuss. But these allegations are serious, and they come at a time we are trying to generate momentum for the games. I hope that the JOC deals with it responsibly." One source connected to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government said, "We don't even know if the allegations are true."

At the same time, however, a senior metropolitan official expressed concern for the possibility that the JOC will become tied up dealing with the scandal and unable to dedicate its efforts to preparing for the games.

"Civil servants can handle the construction of sport venues and paperwork," the official said. "But we need people in the sports community to serve as go-betweens to communicate with international sports organizations."

The metro government has no plans to launch its own investigation into the allegations for the time being. Another JOC official said, "There are plenty of things we need to be doing for the games. Unless a spate of improprieties emerges, making it impossible to hold the games, we will simply keep working on preparations."

(Japanese original by Yuta Kobayashi, Akira Matsumoto, Miaki Tsuburaya, Tadashi Murakami, Kazuhiro Tahara and Hitoshi Kurasawa, Sports News Department; Kentaro Mori and Yoshikazu Takeuchi, City News Department; and Katsuya Takahashi, Political News Department)

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