Tokyo: A top official of Tokyo’s successful bid to host the 2020 Olympics said Thursday he knew nothing about a $2 million payment to a Singaporean consulting firm under investigation over alleged bribery suspicions.
In an interview with Kyodo News, Masato Mizuno, who was vice president of the bid team, said he was tasked with interviewing other consulting companies and drawing up contracts but said he had no knowledge of one with the Black Tidings consultancy company, or even its existence.
“I was not involved with that contract,” he told the Japanese news agency. “This is the first time for me to have any knowledge of it.”
Allegations the payments were improper, first reported by Britain’s Guardian newspaper last week and under investigation by French prosecutors, have sent shockwaves through Japan, which beat Istanbul and Madrid in the race to host the coveted Summer Games in 2013.
Japanese officials, while acknowledging the money was paid by the now disbanded bid committee, have denied wrongdoing and stress that it was for necessary consulting services related to the bid.
The comments came a day after the Japanese Olympic Committee announced its own probe of the payments in two tranches to now-defunct Black Tidings, either side of the International Olympic Committee vote which awarded Tokyo the 2020 Games.
Mizuno also made similar comments to private broadcaster Fuji Television network Thursday, saying he “has never met” with nor even known Ian Tan Tong Han, the consultant who headed Black Tidings and who is an associate of the son of disgraced ex-world athletics chief Lamine Diack.
Separately, Nobumoto Higuchi, another bid committee official, told Fuji Television that his team “did not interview” the Singapore-based consultant, but that he and Tsunekazu Takeda, the JOC president who led the bidding team, approved the payments decision.
But Higuchi also told Kyodo News that he received an analysis from Black Tidings around November 2013, which he said “had a good deal of substance in it.”
“The reality at the time was that we couldn’t win without consulting power,” Higuchi was quoted as saying, echoing Japan’s sports minister Hiroshi Hase who said this week the role of the consultant was “extremely important in getting crucial information” to win the bidding race.
Takeda has refused to disclose details of the consultancy contract to lawmakers, citing a “confidentiality obligation”.
The payment controversy follows earlier problems surrounding the Tokyo Olympics. Organisers were forced to scrap their original main stadium design due to its high cost, and also had to weather plagiarism accusations over the Games’ logo.