Japan insists Olympic payments 'legitimate'
Japan's Olympic chief insisted $2 million in payments were "legitimate" on Friday after French prosecutors launched a probe, suspecting they were aimed at winning support for Tokyo's successful bid to host the 2020 Games.
Japanese Olympic Committee president Tsunakazu Takeda, who led Tokyo's bid, said the payments were for consulting work and did not raise suspicions among the campaign team at the time.
"We would like to reaffirm that the Olympic Games 2020 were awarded to Tokyo as the result of a fair competition and as a result of the contents of our bid," Takeda said in a statement.
"The payments mentioned in the media were a legitimate consultant's fee."
The payments to a bank account in Singapore were first revealed by Britain's Guardian newspaper, and prompted French prosecutors to launch a probe on Thursday. Sources told AFP that investigators suspected the money was aimed at helping Tokyo secure the 2020 Games.
It follows earlier controversies surrounding the Tokyo Olympics, which had to scrap its original main stadium design due to its eye-watering price tag, and had to weather plagiarism accusations over the Games logo.
Some 2.8 million Singapore dollars (1.8 million euros, $2 million) were paid to a company owned by a son of disgraced former world athletics chief Lamine Diack, French prosecutors said on Thursday.
Diack was an International Olympic Committee member in 2013 when Tokyo beat Istanbul and Madrid in the race to host the 2020 Games. Diack and his son already face corruption charges in France.
But Takeda said the money was for "professional services" for consultation work including "the planning of the bid, tutoring on presentation practice, advice for international lobbying communications and service for information and media analysis".
"All these services were properly contracted using accepted business practices," said Takeda. "Furthermore, the amounts paid were in our opinion proper and adequate for the services provided and gave no cause for suspicion at the time."
- Tokyo bid 'clean' -
Earlier, top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told a regular press conference that officials "will further work to confirm facts", citing the French probe.
Olympic Minister Toshiaki Endo said the government's Sports Agency will speak to officials from the Tokyo metropolitan government and the Japanese Olympic Committee.
Suga and Endo both said they were confident that no wrongdoing occurred, based on previous declarations by officials.
The Asahi Shimbun daily quoted "several bid committee members" as saying there was a team outside the formal bid committee that conducted "unknown" activities.
Two payments were made in 2013 to Black Tidings, a Singapore-based company linked to Diack's son Papa Missata Diack, who was employed by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) as a consultant, French prosecutors said.
The alleged payments were discovered as part of an inquiry into allegations that the Diacks organised bribes to cover up failed dope tests by Russian athletes, French prosecutors said. France became involved as the money may have been laundered in Paris.
Prosecutors said the money was "labelled as 'Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Bid', coming from an account opened at a Japanese bank, for the profit of the 'Black Tidings' company in Singapore".
Singapore's anti-corruption agency said Friday it was aiding the French probe.
Japan's Suga on Thursday insisted that the Tokyo bid was "clean", and other officials reiterated that stance on Friday.
"All money is accounted for" in the Tokyo bid team's records and no such alleged payments were made, a Tokyo metropolitan government official in charge of the 2020 Games told AFP.
Tokyo's 2020 Olympics have been dogged by controversy. After growing public opposition, Tokyo replaced its original, $2 billion stadium design with a cheaper design last year.
Last month, organisers unveiled a new Tokyo 2020 logo after claims that an earlier version closely resembled the emblem of a theatre in the Belgian city of Liege.
© 2016 AFP