Get to the bottom of irregularities involving huge sums of money

Suspicion of illegal money flows linked to last summer’s Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games has developed into a criminal case. It is essential to thoroughly clarify what went on behind the scenes of the festival of peace.

Haruyuki Takahashi, a former executive board member of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic organizing committee, allegedly received more than ¥45 million from Games sponsor Aoki Holdings Inc., a major business suit retailer, while he was in the post. The special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office searched locations related to Takahashi on suspicion of taking bribes.

Beginning in the autumn of 2017, Takahashi is said to have received a monthly consulting fee of ¥1 million from the Aoki side through a consulting firm he represents. Aoki marketed suits with the Olympic emblem and other products for general customers and sold a total of about 30,000 such suits.

Executive board members of the organizing committee are regarded as quasi civil servants, and receiving money or products in connection with their duties constitutes the crime of taking bribes in violation of the Penal Code. If it is concluded that funding from the Aoki side to Takahashi’s side was a bribe, it would leave a stain on the international events, which were finally held amid the coronavirus pandemic.

At the Tokyo Olympics, Japan won 58 medals, including 27 golds, recording its greatest-ever medal haul. Japanese athletes also won 51 medals at the Paralympics. If such allegations are true, it can only hurt the athletes who worked hard for the Games.

Takahashi told The Yomiuri Shimbun that he accepted the money but denied any involvement in the wrongdoing, saying, “I didn’t do anything related to the organizing committee’s business or other interests in the capacity of an executive board member.”

The focus of the investigation will be on what authority Takahashi had in the organizing committee and whether he used his influence to gain favorable treatment for the Aoki side, among other factors.

Prosecutors also searched Dentsu Inc., a major advertising firm, as a location linked to the case. The company reportedly sent many employees to the organizing committee and took charge of recruiting sponsors for the Games. Takahashi served as a senior managing director and an adviser at Dentsu before becoming an executive board member of the organizing committee.

The cost of the Tokyo Games amounted to more than ¥1.4 trillion. In the history of the Olympics, which always attract a huge amount of money, there have often been allegations of improprieties and other problems involving funding over the bidding process.

Japan is also aiming to host the 2030 Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Sapporo. There is a possibility that if the Tokyo Games remain under suspicion regarding the funding allegations, the bid for Sapporo could draw suspicious attention from overseas.

Prosecutors have already questioned people concerned on a voluntary basis. It is hoped the investigation will uncover the structure of the interests behind the Tokyo Games and the flow of funds, and that any wrongdoing will be dealt with strictly.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 27, 2022)