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Dentsu’s involvement in Tokyo Olympic Games bid questioned by investigators

The company says its activities during Tokyo’s campaign adhered to the IOC’s rules of conduct.

Japanese advertising giant Dentsu donated millions of dollars to Tokyo's successful bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games, and lobbied members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2013 despite holding a long-term contract with that body to market the Games.

Reuters also reports that Dentsu worked with a Singaporean consultant suspected by French investigators of bribing Olympic voters in Tokyo's favour.

The consultant, Tan Tong Han, is suspected to have passed a sum of $2.3 million – paid to his company, Black Tidings, by Tokyo’s campaign committee – to Papa Massata Diack, the son of International Olympic Council member Lamine Diack, to buy votes for Tokyo. Diack was convicted in France on 16 September in a separate case, for covering up Russian doping in return for bribes. He was sentenced to at least two years in jail.

According to Reuters, Dentsu transferred $6.2 million into the sponsorship account of the Tokyo campaign. The previously undisclosed contribution was more than 10% of the total that bid sponsors provided.

Dentsu has confirmed the payment, but declined to specify the amount. It said said its staff had provided “advice and information to the bid committee” when requested but had no official consulting role.

The company said its activities during Tokyo’s campaign adhered to the IOC’s rules of conduct and, to its understanding, did not infringe on the rule that prohibited IOC sponsors and marketing partners from supporting or promoting any candidate cities involved in an Olympic bid.

Article 10 of the IOC’s rules of conduct for cities vying to host the games states that its top tier of advertisers and marketing partners “shall refrain from supporting or promoting any of the cities” in order to “preserve the integrity and neutrality” of the bidding process.

“We provided a donation in response to a request for support from the bid committee, after an adequate internal corporate process,” Dentsu said in a statement. It did not say how the money was used.

The IOC told Reuters that Dentsu had been “contracted by the IOC to deliver services which were not linked to the candidature of any city.”

What is Dentsu suspected of doing?

• French investigators are investigating whether bribes were paid to secure the Tokyo games and are scrutinizing Dentsu’s role.

• Dentsu endorsed the hiring of Tan by the Tokyo Olympic campaign. Its role is laid out in transcripts of interviews company executives gave to investigators appointed by the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) to examine whether there had been any wrongdoing in the course of Tokyo’s campaign to host the Games.

• Kiyoshi Nakamura, a senior Dentsu executive, told JOC investigators in 2016 that the IOC had what he called an “adult understanding” of Dentsu’s role in working directly with the Tokyo campaign. “They (the IOC) told us not to do it publicly,” Nakamura told investigators, according to a transcript of his 2016 interview seen by Reuters, not previously reported.

Why is the bid being investigated?

• The investigators hired by the JOC to look into whether any corruption took place in the Tokyo bid found no wrongdoing in a final report made public in 2016. The records from the JOC probe, including interview transcripts, were never given to French prosecutors.

• Former JOC chief Tsunekazu Takeda was put under ‘formal investigation’ by French prosecutors because he signed off on hiring Tan. Takeda stepped down from both the IOC and the JOC last year.

• Nakamura, who ran Dentsu’s sports business at the time of the campaign, told JOC investigators that Dentsu “knew the most” about IOC members and wanted to assist the Japanese cause.

• Nakamura told JOC investigators in 2016 that he was asked for his opinion on Tan by two members of Tokyo’s campaign. Nakamura said he replied that Tan had done good work on other major sports events and conveyed his support for hiring the consultant to Nobumoto Higuchi, the then-secretary general of the Tokyo bid.

• Nakamura’s interview transcript shows he also told JOC investigators that Tan could “secure” IOC members such as Sergey Bubka, senior vice president at the International Association of Athletics Federations.

• In interviews with Reuters, both Higuchi and his deputy Kohei Torita, said Dentsu’s input was key to Tan’s hiring. According to the transcript, Torita told investigators: “We wanted to do this after Nakamura said ‘this guy is very good.’”

• After retaining Tan in July 2013, Torita said officials involved in Tokyo’s campaign had no direct communication with him. “After that, Dentsu stepped in as an intermediary,” coordinating on communications and invoices, the former Tokyo campaign official told JOC investigators, according to transcripts of interviews seen by Reuters.

• Both Torita and Nakamura told the investigators Dentsu had frequent contacts with Tan’s company, Black Tidings. At the end of July, Takeda approved the first payment to Black Tidings, a transfer of nearly $1 million.

• Shortly after Tokyo won the Olympics in September 2013, Dentsu contacted officials working for Tokyo’s campaign to relay Tan’s request for additional payment, Torita said, without identifying the officials.

• A month later, Tan received a second payment of $1.3 million from Tokyo’s campaign committee, bank records show. Torita, who created the contract for the payment, told JOC investigators it was a “success fee” paid to consultants after Tokyo clinched the Games.

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