In the latest blow to the International Olympic Committee’s efforts to rid itself of scandal, marketing head Tsunekazu Takeda is being investigated for alleged corruption related to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Takeda, who is also the president of the Japanese Olympic Committee, was placed under formal investigation for “active corruption” on Dec. 10, France’s financial crimes office said Friday.
French investigators are in the midst of a years-long and wide-ranging probe into sports corruption that is looking, among other things, at the bidding contests for the 2020 Olympics and other major sports events.
Takeda’s career in Olympic circles has ticked almost every box, starting with representing Japan in equestrian competition at the 1972 Munich Games and 1976 Montreal Games.
As the head of the IOC’s marketing commission since 2014, Takeda has overseen the signing of sponsorship deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars, including new partnerships with Alibaba, Intel and Allianz.
In a statement issued Friday by the Japanese Olympic Committee, Takeda denied any wrongdoing. The JOC said he was in Tokyo but gave no further details.
“The case is causing tremendous concern among the people who are supporting the Tokyo Games, but I will continue to cooperate in the investigation in order to clear any suspicion of me,” Takeda said.
The IOC ethics commission was scheduled to meet later Friday in Lausanne, Switzerland. Takeda could be provisionally suspended from Olympic duty, or offer to step aside during the investigation.
“The IOC ethics commission has opened a file and will continue to monitor the situation,” the IOC said in a statement. “Mr. Takeda continues to enjoy the full presumption of innocence.”
The preliminary charge of active corruption against Takeda announced by the National Financial Prosecutors office was first reported on Friday by French newspaper Le Monde. The preliminary charge means the investigating magistrate has determined there are serious grounds for suspicion but has not yet ruled on whether to pursue a prosecution.
Secret deals suspected
Le Monde said the magistrate overseeing the probe, Renaud Van Ruymbeke, suspects the IOC vote for Tokyo in 2013 was swayed by secret deals that secured the backing of IOC members from Africa for the Japanese capital over Istanbul and Madrid.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike told Japan’s NHK television she was “very surprised and puzzled” but declined to speculate how it might affect the Tokyo Olympics.
“I just got the initial report on this, so I don’t have sufficient information,” she said.
Le Monde reported French investigators suspect Takeda of authorizing the payment of bribes. French financial prosecutors are looking at two payments, totaling 1.8 million euros ($2 million), made on either side of the IOC vote in September 2013 to a Singapore company, Black Tidings, Le Monde said.
French prosecutors have linked Black Tidings to Papa Massata Diack, one of the sons of Lamine Diack, who presided over the IAAF from 1999 to 2015.
Lamine Diack, who had huge influence on African voters in Olympic contests, is also under investigation in France on corruption-related charges and allegations that he, his son and others were involved in blackmailing athletes and covering up failed drug tests. The 85-year-old Diack has had to turn in his passport and is not allowed to leave the country.
His son is believed to be in Senegal. France has issued a wanted notice for him via Interpol.
‘No such illegal activity’
Takeda, who is a distant relative of the Japanese imperial family but does not have royal status, said he was cooperating with French investigators. He said the money paid by the bid committee is a legitimate cost for the service provided by the Black Tidings under the consultancy contract between the two sides. He also said he did not know Lamine Diack.
“I have explained [to the French authorities] that there was no such illegal activity tantamount to bribery,” Takeda said.
Takeda was leading Tokyo’s second straight bid for the Summer Games, after losing in the 2016 Olympics race to Rio de Janeiro. French prosecutors are also investigating Rio officials and IOC members for alleged financial wrongdoing in 2009 linked to Papa Massata Diack.
The Japanese Olympic Committee said it has conducted its own internal investigation and found no illegality involved in all payments made by the Japanese bid committee at the time.
The organizers of the 2020 Olympics referred questions to the JOC.
In Takeda’s Olympic career, he has led a national Olympic committee, been a vice president of an Olympic sport’s governing body (equestrian), a chef de mission for Olympic teams, a sports director for a Winter Olympics (Nagano in 1998), a Summer Games bid leader, an IOC member since 2012, and now chair of one of the most financially significant IOC panels.
Takeda also works closely with Sheikh Ahmad of Kuwait, the influential IOC member who has stepped aside from the IOC while awaiting trial in Geneva this year in a fraud case unrelated to Olympic business. Takeda is a board member of the global group of Olympic committees, known as ANOC, and the Olympic Council of Asia, both led by the Kuwaiti sheikh.