Major Japan menswear firm ‘pressed for lower sponsorship fees’ after Tokyo Games postponed

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Haruyuki Takahashi

Haruyuki Takahashi, a former executive board member of the Tokyo Games organizing committee, may have pressed the committee to reduce Aoki Holdings Inc.’s additional sponsorship fee after the Games were postponed in 2020, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

In the latest twist in the alleged bribery case, it is suspected that Aoki Holding’s fee was lowered from an initial ¥100 million to ¥10 million.

The special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office confiscated Aoki Holdings meeting minutes that suggest the major menswear retailer asked Takahashi to request a discount and is examining how the reduction was decided.

The Tokyo Games were scheduled to start in summer 2020 but were postponed for a year due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. In December 2020, the organizing committee announced it would extend its contracts with all 68 domestic corporate sponsors by 12 months, saying the sponsors would have to pay an additional fee.

According to sources, former Aoki Holdings Chairman Hironori Aoki, 83, expressed reticence over the fee, saying the additional ¥100 million requested by the committee was “too expensive.” He then consulted Takahashi, 78, about the amount, who said the company “doesn’t need to pay.” Takahashi then pressed the organizing committee’s marketing bureau to reduce Aoki Holdings’ payment, the sources said.

Aoki Holdings and the organizing committee negotiated on multiple occasions, resulting in the additional fee being slashed by ¥90 million.

During a company meeting after the agreement was reached, Aoki Holdings officials are said to have reported: “Thanks to Chairman Aoki’s efforts, the additional sponsorship fee was lowered to ¥10 million.” According to the sources, these remarks were contained in the meeting minutes.

It is thought that Takahashi received repeated requests from Aoki Holdings asking for preferential treatment in its business activities related to the Games. Investigators allege that between October 2017 and March this year, Takahashi received 54 bribes totaling ¥51 million. He was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of receiving money in exchange for favors.

Aoki and two others related to Aoki Holdings have been arrested on suspicion of bribery.

Suspicions have been growing that Takahashi persuaded the organizing committee to choose Aoki Holdings as a sponsor and that he pressed the committee to expedite screenings for the company’s Olympic-licensed goods.

The special investigation squad is examining whether and how Takahashi’s favorable treatment might have benefited Aoki Holdings.

Takahashi has denied the allegations, telling investigators, “The money [I received] was for consulting fees unrelated to the Games.”

Aoki has denied giving bribes to Takahashi, the sources said.