‘Festival of peace’ must not be tarnished by heinous acts

What kind of collusion was there between an executive of the organization that managed the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics last summer, and a corporate sponsor? The murky flow of Olympic money must be clarified.

The special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office arrested Haruyuki Takahashi, a former executive board member of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic organizing committee, on suspicion of accepting bribes, and three others, including the former chairperson of major business clothing retailer Aoki Holdings Inc., which was a sponsor for the Games, on suspicion of offering bribes.

Takahashi is suspected of receiving a total of ¥51 million in cash as a reward for giving preferential treatment to the Aoki side in the sponsorship contract and in the manufacture and sale of official Games merchandise.

The Aoki side, on the other hand, reportedly sold 30,000 suits with the Olympic emblem on them for general customers, along with other products. Was there a relationship of mutual back scratching? If the charges are true, they would be actions that tarnish the “festival of peace” and are totally unacceptable.

As executive board members of the organizing committee are deemed quasi civil servants, their receiving money or goods in connection with their duties constitutes the crime of bribery, a violation of the Penal Code. The focus of the investigation will be on what authority Takahashi had within the organizing committee and how he was involved in selecting sponsors and related merchandise.

Takahashi served in executive posts at major advertising firm Dentsu Inc., including as senior managing director, before becoming an executive board member of the organizing committee. He was involved in the bid to bring the 2002 soccer World Cup to Japan, and has been regarded as a leading person in the sports business.

Before his arrest, Takahashi had admitted to The Yomiuri Shimbun that he accepted the money, but denied involvement in any wrongdoing, saying, “In my capacity as an executive board member, I didn’t do anything related to the organizing committee’s businesses or other interests.”

Last month, the special investigation squad searched Dentsu, as a related location, as well as the liquidating corporation of the dissolved organizing committee. A number of Dentsu employees had been seconded to the section of the organizing committee that is responsible for screening related merchandise and other duties.

An investigation also needs to be conducted thoroughly to determine whether Takahashi used his influence over these Dentsu employees to provide favors to the Aoki side.

The cost of the Tokyo Games was more than ¥1.4 trillion. Allegations of bribery in the bidding process for the Games have also surfaced, prompting the French judiciary authorities to launch an investigation.

Will this incident be the last in which illicit funding is suspected? It is hoped that the special investigation squad will proceed with analyzing the seized materials and unravel the entire picture of the interests involving the massive sum of money.

Japan is also seeking to host the 2030 Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Sapporo. It goes without saying that there must be a high level of transparency in its bidding activities to ensure that it does not draw suspicion from abroad.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 18, 2022)