TOKYO: The former chairman of a Tokyo 2020 Olympics sponsor was handed a suspended prison sentence today along with two others, in the first convictions in a spiralling bribery scandal surrounding the Games.
Corruption allegations have mushroomed in the aftermath of the pandemic-delayed Games, implicating major companies and damaging Japan’s bid to host the 2030 Winter Olympics in Sapporo.
A Tokyo district court spokesperson confirmed to AFP that 84-year-old Hironori Aoki, the ex-head of high-street business suit retailer Aoki Holdings, had been given a suspended two-and-a-half-year prison term.
The judge said that his “criminal liability is significant”.
Aoki pleaded guilty in December to accusations that he and two colleagues paid a Tokyo 2020 board member for preferential treatment, according to Japanese media.
Prosecutors had sought immediate jail for the businessman, but instead the court handed down today’s sentence, suspended for four years.
Aoki Holdings was an official partner of the 2020 Olympics — which were held largely without spectators in 2021 because of Covid — allowing the firm to use the event’s logo and sell officially licenced products.
Aoki was arrested in August along with two ex-colleagues and former Tokyo 2020 board member Haruyuki Takahashi.
The two ex-colleagues also received suspended jail sentences today, one for a year and the other for 18 months. Takahashi’s trial has yet to begin and he has reportedly pleaded not guilty.
Takahashi allegedly received US$380,000 (RM1.7 million) in bribes “with the understanding they were meant as thank-you money for the beneficial and preferential treatment” of Aoki Holdings, according to prosecution documents previously seen by AFP.
‘Damaged social trust’
“These criminal acts damaged social trust in the fair operation of the Games, which attracted world attention and were important for the country,” judge Kenji Yasunaga said today in comments reported by Jiji Press.
Aoki, who had instructed a colleague at the time to destroy evidence, “wanted to pursue the interests of his company”, the judge said.
An Aoki Holdings spokeswoman told AFP: “We take the ruling seriously and will do our utmost to prevent a recurrence and regain trust from our customers.”
The growing corruption scandal has also implicated Japan’s biggest advertising agency, Dentsu Group, which in February was indicted along with five other companies for allegedly violating an anti-monopoly law.
Other parties involved in bribery cases include a major publishing firm and a merchandise company licensed to sell soft toys of the Games’ mascots.
Senior Tokyo 2020 organising committee official Yasuo Mori and three others have also been arrested on suspicion of rigging a string of Olympic Games-related tenders.
And the former president of ADK Holdings, Japan’s third-largest advertising agency, has pleaded guilty to offering Takahashi at least ¥14 million (RM460,000).
The scandal is not the first time questions have been raised about alleged impropriety around the Games.
French prosecutors launched an investigation into allegations of corruption linked to Tokyo’s bid for the Games in 2016.
The former head of Japan’s Olympic Committee, Tsunekazu Takeda, stepped down in 2019 as French authorities probed his involvement in payments made before Tokyo was awarded the event.