Japan Olympic Bigwig Gave Tips to Help Bribery-Tainted Aoki Win Bid

From Aoki Inc. press release
Official attire Aoki Inc. created for the Japan national team to wear at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics

Before Aoki Holdings Inc. had its Tokyo 2020 uniforms chosen for the Japan national team, a then Japanese Olympic Committee senior official allegedly advised the company on how to win the bid, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

Haruyuki Takahashi, a former director of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic organizing committee who had been asked by former Aoki Holdings Chairman Hironori Aoki and others to help the company secure Games-related contracts, leaned on JOC senior officials to ensure the company’s proposal was selected.

Takahashi, 79, has been indicted for accepting bribes from Aoki Holdings executives in a corruption scandal that has tainted the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, which ended up being held in 2021.

In July 2019, a selection committee that included the JOC senior officials examined the proposals that five companies put forward for the official attire for the Japan national team. Aoki Holdings was selected, but details of how the committee reached this decision have not been made public.

The Aoki Holdings side admitted during questioning by the special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office that its officials had met with JOC senior officials who were on the selection committee. The Aoki side reportedly has admitted, among other things, that “questions and comments favorable to Aoki Holdings” were made by one of the senior officials during the screening process.

According to sources, two senior officials on the selection committee met with the company in May 2019, about two months before the proposals were screened.

One official reportedly advised Aoki Holdings that the selection committee wanted to see proposals that “incorporated traditional Japanese culture such as washi paper” into the clothing. During the screening, this official also reportedly asked about washi paper mentioned in the company’s proposal.

The two JOC senior officials were urged by Takahashi and a then senior official of advertising giant Dentsu Inc., who was aware of Takahashi’s intention, to give Aoki Holdings favorable treatment, the sources said.

Before the selection was made, the JOC officials reportedly met only with Aoki Holdings among the five companies bidding.

The company explained in an investigative report released in March that it had met and talked with the JOC side and had “received information.”

The JOC told The Yomiuri Shimbun that the selection process was “fair” but declined to answer any questions about the details.

During the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Games on July 23, 2021, Japan national team members wore white jackets and red trousers as they strode into the National Stadium in Tokyo.

Aoki Holdings made the official uniforms for the ceremony using the colors of the Hinomaru national flag. Creating this attire had been the fervent wish of the company’s former chairman, the now 84-year-old Hironori Aoki. Last month on April 21, the Tokyo District Court found him guilty of paying a total of ¥28 million in bribes to Takahashi.

According to the prosecutors’ opening statement, Takahashi had since March 2017, at the request of Aoki and others, instructed senior organizing committee officials to take steps that would enable the company to receive the contract.

The committee initially considered including a “priority supply right” for the official attire in the Aoki Holdings contract as a Games sponsor. This plan was dropped, however, due to reasons such as difficulties in coordinating this arrangement with the JOC and other entities.

The selection committee, which was comprised of 10 people including the senior JOC officials, was established in November 2018. Takahashi reportedly urged some of these committee members to have the Aoki Holdings proposal chosen.

In December 2018, the Aoki Holdings side met with the then JOC senior officials in person through an introduction by Takahashi. The company conveyed its desire to secure the contract, and one senior official reportedly said, “I’ll positively consider this matter.”

Then came the May 9, 2019, meeting between Aoki Holdings officials and the two senior JOC officials, at which one of the latter reportedly advised the company to somehow include elements like washi paper in the uniform proposal.

At the time, using washi paper had become a hot topic among the selection committee members.

Following this meeting, the company decided to use some thread made from washi paper.

At the screening meeting on July 26, 2019, nine committee members assessed the proposals that Aoki and the other companies had submitted.

The proposals were graded in three categories, such as design, on a five-point scale.

“We put a lot of thought into our plan,” said a senior official of another company that had submitted a uniform proposal. “It would be unfortunate if the conditions weren’t fair for everyone.”

“The officials met only with Aoki Holdings before the selection was made,” a JOC source said. “That wasn’t a good thing to do.”