French prosecutors launched moves last week to possibly indict the chairman of Japan’s National Olympic Committee and former head of the 2020 Olympic Bid Committee, Tsunekazu Takeda, for alleged bribery helping Tokyo win the 2020 Olympics.

Tokyo was selected as the 2020 Olympic host city in 2013, beating Istanbul and Madrid. It was an uphill battle for Japan – it won hosting rights despite concerns about radioactive fallout from Fukushima and sweltering August heat which could prove lethal for athletes.

At the heart of the issue is the shadowy connection between lobbying, influence peddling and bribery in international sports.

Central to the French case is a payment of $2.8 million Singapore dollars (US$2 million) the Japan Olympic Bid Committee made to a company associated with a former president of the International Association of Athletics Federations Lamine Diack of Senegal, who is now a wanted man. The payment, to a company connected to Diack, appears to have been made on the understanding that he would use his influence to sway African International Olympic Committee (IOC) members to vote for Tokyo.

French authorities say that the money, designated as “Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Bid”, came from an account opened at a Japanese bank primarily for that purpose.

Chairman of Coordination Commission Meeting Tokyo 2020 John Coates (8th from L) inspects the Yokohama Stadium, one of the venue of baseball and softball for Tokyo 2020 Olympics in Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture on December 3, 2018. The meeting will be held until Dec. 5th. The 2020 Summer Olympics is scheduled to take place from 24 July to 9 August 2020. ( The Yomiuri Shimbun )
John Coates, chairman of Coordination Commission for Tokyo 2020, 8th from left, inspects the Yokohama Stadium, a venue for baseball and softball on December 3. Photo: AFP/ Yomiuri Shimbun

Tokyo 2020 saga

The latest moves in the investigation have been a long time coming. While some Japanese media are spinning the story as France retaliating for the arrest and many weeks of detention faced by Nissan-Renault chief Carlos Ghosn, the investigation is not new.

The story of the alleged bribery has, in fact, have been reported in great detail by Japanese monthly magazines, Zaiten and Facta. Other scandals surrounding the Olympics were discussed as early as 2014, in the book 2020 The Dark Money Of The Tokyo Olympics by investigative journalist Yoshinari Ichinomiya.

Last week the French National Financial Prosecutors office laid out preliminary charges with a judge. A preliminary charge means the investigating magistrate has determined there is a serious suspicion of a crime, but the magistrate has still not made a decision to prosecute.

French prosecutors launched an investigation into Tokyo’s bidding campaign for the 2020 Olympics in late 2015. In 2016, they announced their findings – that in the months before and after the 2013 Olympic vote, there was payment of S$2.8 million ($2 million) to the account of Singaporean consulting firm Black Tidings, connected to Papa Massata Diack, the son (despite his name) of Lamine Diack.

Former IAAF leader Lamine Diack of Senegal attends a press conference during the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing in August 2015. Photo: Michael Kappeler / Dpa
Former IAAF leader Lamine Diack of Senegal, at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing in August 2015. Photo: Michael Kappeler / Dpa

Black Tidings

The head of Black Tidings, Singaporean Ian Tan Tong Han, is a friend of Papa Massatta Diack. He is also allegedly connected to Dentsu, Japan’s largest advertising agency, the marketing agency of the 2020 Olympics.

Lamine Diack was an influential powerbroker in international sports movements at the time of the Tokyo bid and president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) from 1999 to 2015. He is facing criminal charges in France for breach of trust.

His son Papa Diack is currently wanted by Interpol at the request of France for his alleged involvement in international corruption and receiving bribes. In January 2016, a report by the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Independent Commission accused him of involvement in the Russian doping scandal. It also stated that Lamine Diack used his influence to ensure his son Papa was contracted as a marketing consultant. The same report discusses the connection between Black Tidings and Dentsu.

The JOC has said in the past it had been in contact with the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, about these payments. The chairman of the JOC, Takeda, who also headed the 2020 Japan Olympic Bid Committee (now dissolved) said in May 2016: “It was a standard fee for overseas consulting and all efforts to invite the games were done fairly.”

Japanese Olympic Committee president Tsunekazu Takeda, left, talks to International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach in Tokyo on December 30, 2018. French media say a judge has started a search on charges of corruption. Photo: AFP / Yomiuri Shimbun
Japanese Olympic Committee chief Tsunekazu Takeda, left, talks to IOC head Thomas Bach in Tokyo on December 30, 2018. French media say a judge has started a probe into possible bribery to win the 2020 Summer Games . Photo: AFP / Yomiuri Shimbun

Dentsu connection?

Japanese media has been very reluctant to report that this payment appears to have been facilitated by Dentsu. Dentsu is also reported to have made exclusive secret contracts with Diack family members.

Asia Times was unable to reach Diack, but in an exclusive interview with Kyodo News in 2016, Papa Massatta Diack allegedly told reporters in French: “I haven’t gotten any of the money.”

He told Kyodo News that the head of Black Tidings, Ian Tan Tong Han, had been a friend since the two met at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. However, he insisted that he didn’t know Tan’s company had received contracting work connected to Japan’s bid for the 2020 Olympics.

Papa Massatta Diack admitted to dining with Japanese Olympic Committee members when visiting Japan, but claims he never received money from the committee. Kyodo News reported that it was not allowed to video or record the interview.

Dentsu is also a partial owner of Kyodo News. Kyodo has generally neglected to mention the possible involvement of Dentsu in its reports so far.

A report by WADA, the Anti-Doping agency, asserted that Ian Tan Tong Han is a consultant to Athlete Management and Services, a Dentsu sporting subsidiary based in Lucerne, Switzerland. Dentsu has denied any connection to Mr Tan.

In March 2018, Japan’s Facta magazine, obtained and published what they claimed were secret contracts between Diack family members and Dentsu executives. French authorities believe these contracts may have played a role in Japan buying votes to win the 2020 bid.

They are investigating the possibility that Dentsu was a conduit for payments from the Japan side, authorized by Takeda, and that these payments were also tantamount to bribes. Dentsu had no comment at press time.

Gangsta Games

Allegations that the JOC paid bribes to obtain a winning bid is just the latest scandal involving the 2020 Olympics. Even before 2016, the JOC had been the subject of intense scrutiny due to former vice-chairman Hideotoshi Tanaka’s possible connections to the yakuza, Japan’s mafia. Tanaka is or was close friends with Takeda.

In April 2015, in a session of Japan’s parliament, lawmaker Yoshio Maki demanded the government look into possible links between the yakuza and members of Japan’s Olympic Committee. In National Diet education committee meetings that month, Maki held up several newspaper and magazine articles that included a photo of the head of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest organized crime group, apparently taken with Tanaka, and demanded an explanation.

Maki asked the education minister at the time, Hakubun Shimomura, who was also in charge of overseeing preparations for the Tokyo Games, why the government had yet to investigate possible ties to organized crime.

Shimomura, who had also received political donations from a Yamaguchi-gumi front company and been connected to associated members himself, promised to launch an inquiry into possible past or present connections between the Yamaguchi-gumi and former vice-chairman Tanaka. But results of the investigation were never formally announced.

Last year another scandal involving yakuza and the Olympics came to light. It was widely reported that former Japan Amateur Boxing Federation president Akira Yamane was not only facing multiple allegations of misconduct, including pressuring referees to fix matches and misuse of public funds. He also had a long association with a Yamaguchi-gumi leader, Masao Morita (now retired). Yamane stepped down in August of 2018, ending another scandal involving yakuza and the Olympics.

However, as far back as March 2016, Taisei Kensetsu, one of the major contractors on the new national stadium, along with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department and other organizations, made a public pledge to keep organized crime out of the construction process. Other building companies and businesses involved in the Olympics have made similar pledges.

Even so, costs of the Tokyo Olympics have skyrocketed from original estimates in 2013 of around $7.3 billion to current estimates of over $30 billion. There has been speculation that escalating costs might be due to corruption and organized crime.

An aerial photo taken on Decmber 9, 2018 shows the new National Stadium under construction at Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo. The opening and closing ceremony will be held at this stadium. The new National Stadium will be planned to use 47 prefectural woods because it is a world-proud stadium that uses Japanese domestic timber. ( The Yomiuri Shimbun )
An aerial photo taken on December 9, 2018 shows the new National Stadium being built at Shinjuku Ward in Tokyo. The opening and closing ceremony will be held at this stadium. Photo: AFP/ Yomiuri Shimbun

Nagano Winter Games 1998

Japan has been accused of Olympic bidding improprieties before. In the mid-to-late 90s, supporters lavished millions of dollars worth of hospitality on IOC delegates during Nagano’s winning bid for the 1998 Winter Games.

An American who worked for the IOC at the time told Asia Times on condition of anonymity: “Of course, it seemed like bribery to me. Who knows? The committee destroyed all the records related to the hospitality expenses as soon as they could.”

The current head of Japan’s Olympic Committee, Tsunekazu Takeda, who French authorities are investigating on corruption charges, was also involved in the Nagano Olympics bidding and management. He is scheduled to hold a press conference on Tuesday (January 15) in which he will assert his innocence.

But in Japan – despite last week’s news from France – Takeda’s innocence is already a foregone conclusion.

In September 2016, a report published by an allegedly independent panel appointed by the JOC said the $2.3m payment to Black Tidings was legitimate and had been made in return for consulting services.

Yoshihisa Hayakawa, a lawyer who headed the three-member panel, said that they had concluded there was no bribery involved in Japan’s 2020 Olympic bid.

Even if Takeda is indicted, it seems unlikely he will ever face trial in France. Reportedly a distant relative of Japan’s royal family — the great grandson of the Meiji Emperor, no less – he may prove untouchable.