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Japan's Olympic chief 'did not know' of lobby firm's links to controversial middle man: investigators

Tsunekazu Takeda has strenuously protested his innocence
Tsunekazu Takeda has strenuously protested his innocence AFP
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Paris (AFP)

The head of Japan's Olympic Committee told French investigators he had not known that a consultancy firm used by the 2020 Tokyo bid committee had links to a controversial Senegalese man at the centre of corruption allegations, documents seen by AFP show.

Tsunekazu Takeda was charged this month by French investigating magistrates probing two payments totalling $2.3 million (two million euros) made before and after the Japanese capital was chosen to host the Olympics in a September 2013 vote.

Officially the payments, made in July and October 2013, were made for "consultancy work", but the French investigators believe they were aimed at obtaining "favourable votes from members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC)".

Among the IOC members voting on the bid was Lamine Diack, the Senegalese who was then the head of athletics' world governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

Diack's son Papa Massata Diack was then a marketing consultant for the IAAF and is now under investigation, facing allegations he received bribes in return for helping Tokyo land the 2020 Games.

Massata Diack remains in Senegal despite an international arrest warrant issued for him.

The payments were made to the now-defunct Singaporean consultancy firm Black Tidings. French investigating magistrates describe Black Tidings as a "shell company", according to the documents viewed by AFP.

Investigators who visited Singapore found the company did not have an office, tracing it instead to an apartment where the company administrator, Ian Tan Tong Han, lived. Tan was a close business associate of Massata Diack.

Questioned in Paris on December 10, Takeda denied any knowledge of the business relationship between Tan and Massata Diack at the time of the payments.

"At the time that the contracts were signed, neither the bid committee nor I knew of the existence of these links," Takeda told the investigating magistrates.

"I did not know Papa Massata Diack, I had never had a conversation with him, I did not know who he was," he added.

Takeda told his French questioners that he played no role in choosing the consultancy firm -- he said Black Tidings had been recommended by the giant Japanese advertising firm Dentsu.

The documents seen by AFP show that investigators are intrigued by this link because Dentsu is the IAAF's main marketing partner, and Massata Diack used to oversee the IAAF's marketing strategy.

- Unwelcome distraction -

Pressed by the judges to explain Tan's role, Takeda said: "Tan must have known a lot of people at the IAAF and supplied information to the (Tokyo) Olympic bid committee... about IOC members within the IAAF."

Takeda has strenuously denied involvement in the suspect payments. In a news conference in Japan this month, he said: "I was never involved in any decision-making process" over the payment.

Takeda said he had protested his innocence during the questioning by French authorities.

He said the payments were not corrupt but "a consultancy contract signed through appropriate approval procedures".

"I'm very sorry that this trouble could possibly affect the Olympic movement," he added, vowing to co-operate with the authorities.

The affair is an unwelcome distraction for the 2020 organisers, who have been widely praised for being ahead of schedule with 18 months to go until the opening ceremony in July next year.

In a statement, Tokyo 2020 said it had "no means of knowing the bid committee's activities", which occurred before the organising committee was set up.

"We believe that the Games were awarded to Tokyo because the city presented the best bid," the statement added.

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