A dark legacy for the Tokyo Games. A year and a handful of days after the end of the Olympic event, the news reopens the Tokyo 2020 file. But this time, it is in the legal section.
Haruyuki Takahashi (pictured above), often presented as one of the most influential leaders of the Japanese Olympic movement, was arrested on Wednesday 17 August in Tokyo. Along with him, three other men suffered the same fate, including the former founder and president of a clothing brand that became an official partner of the Tokyo Games organising committee.
All four men are suspected of corruption.
The case began nearly four weeks ago. On 21 July, two days before the symbolic date of D+1 after the opening of the Tokyo Games, the Japanese media revealed the existence of an investigation into alleged bribes related to the last Olympic and Paralympic event in the Japanese capital.
At the heart of the case is 78-year-old Haruyuki Takahashi, former boss of the Dentsu group and member of the Tokyo 2020 board of directors. He is suspected of having received in 2017 the equivalent of nearly 380,000 dollars (at the current exchange rate), in several dozen payments spread over more than five years, from the company Aoki Holdings, a Japanese chain of business suit shops.
The money was paid by Aoki into the account of a consulting firm owned by Haruyuki Takahashi. Aoki Holdings, already involved in Tokyo’s bid for the 2020 Summer Games (the brand dressed the delegation at the IOC session in Buenos Aires in September 2013), became a partner of the organising committee in 2018.
Considered by his position as a member of Tokyo’s board of directors to be an agent of the state, Haruyuki Takahashi was not to receive a single penny from an official partner of the Games. According to the investigation documents, his consultancy firm was paid monthly from autumn 2017. The payments ranged from $3,700 to $7,400 per month.
Haruyuki Takahashi did not deny the facts. But he assured that the money received was in no way related to the Tokyo Games, nor to his presence on the board.
The investigation continued. At the beginning of August, the prosecutors in charge of the case ordered searches at the home of Haruyuki Takahashi, but also at the home of the former president of Aoki Holdings, Hironori Aoki, 83 years old, who retired in June, and at the offices of the former organising committee of the Games.
The latest episode, on Wednesday 17 August, takes the suspicion up a notch. Haruyuki Takahashi, Hironori Aoki and two other executives of the clothing company – Takahisa Aoki, 76, younger brother of the founder and former vice-president of the brand, and Katsuhisa Ueda, 40, a company executive – were arrested.
Haruyuki Takahashi is suspected of receiving ¥51 million ($380,000) in bribes, via more than 50 payments, from Hironori Aoki and others between October 2017 and March 2022. The other Japanese arrested are suspected of seeking favourable arrangements for sponsorship contracts for the Tokyo Games.
According to public broadcaster NHK, citing sources close to the investigation, Aoki Holdings allegedly asked Haruyuki Takahashi for “preferential treatment” several months before the consulting contract was signed. The same sources said that the clothing company had frequent contact with the former Dentsu executive until June last year. In particular, Aoki Holdings is said to have asked Haruyuki Takahashi to expedite the selection by the Tokyo Games organising committee of official licensed products manufactured and sold by the company.
As is often the case in Japan, the announcement of the four arrests was accompanied by a flurry of press releases. Aoki Holdings apologised for the “tremendous harm” caused by the arrests. The company said it “takes the matter seriously” and would “cooperate fully with the authorities’ investigations“.
Founded in 1958 and now based in Yokohama, Aoki Holdings currently has nearly 600 shops in Japan. It has been listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange since 1991.
Since its partnership with Tokyo 2020, it has sold over 30,000 suits and jackets from its Olympic collection. The brand also dressed the Japanese delegation for the opening ceremonies of the Tokyo Games.