Tsunekazu Takeda, the president of the Japanese Olympic Committee and a powerful IOC member, again denied corruption allegations against him, suggesting on Tuesday that any guilt was with others at the Japanese body.
Takeda read a seven-minute prepared text and then took no questions from hundreds of media.
Innocent or guilty in a bribery scandal that French authorities suspect helped land the games for Tokyo, the scandal has cast a shadow over the upcoming Olympics that open in 18 months. It also underscores failed efforts by the International Olympic Committee to clean up its bidding process with billions swirling around the preparations of every Olympics.
Tokyo is spending about USD20 billion to prepare for the games.
“I am very sorry for having caused concern for those working very hard to prepare for Tokyo’s 2020 Olympics and Paralympics,” Takeda said, speaking only in Japanese.
The last Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro were tumultuous from start to finish and ended eventually with the arrest of organizing committee president — and Brazilian Olympic Committee president — Carlos Nuzman, also in a vote-buying scandal.
The Asahi newspaper reported Olympic Minister Yoshitaka Sakurada as saying at a separate news conference yesterday that the allegations “are not very good for the image” of Japan.
IOC President Thomas Bach, speaking last month in Tokyo, described the games as “the best prepared” in history. They have overcome early problems that included a plagiarized logo design, and a redesign of a new Olympic stadium because of soaring costs. General cost overruns have continued to be an issue for Tokyo, which is now spending three times more than it said it would when it was selected.
Takeda, a distant member of Japan’s royal family — he is great grandson of the Meiji emperor who ruled late in 19th century and into the 20th — gave only courtesy bows before and after his speech, not the low, sustained bows associated with showing deep remorse.
He acknowledged he had signed off on about $2 million in payments to a Singapore consulting company, Black Tidings.
French investigators have linked Black Tidings to Papa Massata Diack, one of the sons of powerful ex-IOC member Lamine Diack of Senegal.
Lamine Diack had huge influence over Olympic voters in Africa. In 2013, IOC members voted for Tokyo, eliminating attractive bids from Madrid and Istanbul.
“The contract [with Black Tidings] was reviewed and I did make the final signature,” Takeda, the head of the IOC marketing commission, said. He called it a “regular commercial contract procedure” and said “there were several others who signed off before me.”
“As for me, I was not involved in the decision- making process for deciding on Black Tiding,” Takeda said. “There was no reason for me to question the process on this consultation deal.”
Jeff Kingston, who teaches Japanese politics at Temple University in Tokyo, said in the “end this could be known as the Black Tidings Olympics.”
“It’s a huge black eye for Japan. There is no other way to spin it,” he told The Associated Press.
Kingston also blamed the IOC.
“What this does is expose the failure of the IOC to get its house in order,” Kingston said.
Dressed in a dark suit and a silver-blue tie to match his hair, Takeda spoke seated without the usual promotional backdrop of the Tokyo Olympics, or the Japanese Olympic Committee. He offered little new, referring often to a 2016 internal report by the Japanese Olympic Committee that essentially cleared him of wrongdoing.
The JOC report concluded the $2 million was appropriate compensation for consulting work done by Black Tidings. Takeda also said he had no knowledge of links to the Diack family. He said the contact was not “illegal under Japanese law.”
“I’d like to clear the allegation against me, and I will cooperate fully with French authorities,” Takeda said.
Tokyo’s Olympic organizing committee attempted to distance itself from Takeda, who headed the bid committee but is not at the head of the organizing committee.
“The Tokyo 2020 organizing committee has no means of knowing the details of the bid committee’s activities, as the organizing committee was established after Tokyo was selected as the host city,” organizers said in a statement. “We believe that the games were awarded to Tokyo because the city presented the best bid.”
The preliminary charge against Takeda announced by the National Financial Prosecutors office was first reported by French newspaper Le Monde. The preliminary charge means the investigating magistrate has determined there are serious grounds for suspicion. But no decision has been announced on any prosecution.
Takeda said in early 2017 he replied to questions from the Tokyo district court, but he said the court did not follow up.
The IOC has backed Takeda and says he has the presumption of innocence. Takeda testified by video hookup on Friday with the IOC ethics commission, but gave no details of any action it might take. Emails from the AP asking for details went unanswered.
The IOC has periodically asked other members to resign, or step aside while their conduct was being investigated.
The IOC has about 100 members, and three are suspended on corruption allegations: Sheikh Ahmad of Kuwait, Frank Fredericks of Namibia, and Patrick Hickey of Ireland. Nuzman, an honorary member from Brazil, is also suspended. AP