Media watch: Prosecutors emboldened by death of Abe

Haruyuki Takahashi

The media is now closely watching a criminal investigation that involves one of the former executives of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics organizing committee. According to the Yomiuri Shimbun, Haruyuki Takahashi is suspected of receiving ¥45 million from clothing maker/retailer Aoki Holdings, one of the official sponsors of the Games. Takahashi is a former Dentsu Advertising executive who now runs his own consulting firm, and supposedly the money was related to a contract signed between the company and Aoki for consulting work that had nothing to do with the Olympics. Executive members of the organizing committee in Japan are deemed to be civil servants, and the Tokyo prosecutor suspects that the money Takahashi received was paid to help Aoki attain a sponsorship deal, which would be illegal. Takahashi vehemently denies the allegation. 

What is especially interesting to the media is the timing of the investigation. According to an article that appeared on the website Gendai Digital on July 21, the day after Yomiuri broke the story, the death of former prime minister Shinzo Abe earlier this month has opened a “Pandora’s box” of possible investigations by the Tokyo prosecutor into various matters that were considered off limits when Abe was alive. These include Olympics-related matters, since Abe was instrumental in winning the hosting gig for Tokyo, but now that he’s dead all bets are off. 

It doesn’t even matter that the books on the 2020 Games are now officially closed. On June 30, the organizing committee was dissolved after submitting a deceptively glowing review of the troubled Olympics. As one source from within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party told Gendai, there were so many problems dogging the Games that the organizing committee wanted to get it all behind them as soon as possible, so once the committee was dissolved a huge sigh of relief could be heard in the offices of related organizations, both private and public. But it wasn’t to be. The Tokyo prosecutor’s office then launched its investigation into Takahashi, who was a member of the committee since 2014. The bid for the Tokyo Olympics is already under investigation in France, but most mainstream media have avoided reporting on the matter due to the sontaku nature of avoiding Olympics-related scandal. The Tokyo prosecutor obviously feels they can now proceed.

A reporter who has been following the story told Gendai that the prosecutor’s office started looking into Hironori Aoki, the founder of Aoki Holdings, back in the spring, but the reporter and other media people thought it wouldn’t go anywhere because of the “taboo” surrounding Olympics coverage. If Abe were found to be involved at all, he said, then the investigation would not have gone forward, so the sudden revival of the case makes the reporter think that Abe’s death may have given the prosecutors a green light.

Of course, there have been rumors for years that illegal money was used to secure the bid, and Takahashi’s long association with Dentsu, the mammoth advertising agency that basically coordinated not only the bid but the whole Olympics operation, has always attracted suspicion. The most obvious point of entry for the prosecutor is the Aoki connection, since the prosecutor believes that the ¥45 million consulting contract payment was really a bribe to get Aoki to secure a sponsorship deal in October 2018, which led to profits because Aoki supplied the Olympics with uniforms for staff and umpires using official emblems. The consulting contract was signed in September 2017 for ¥1 million a month, and one of the most suspicious aspects of the contract was that it ended the month the Games started. Takahashi says the consulting work had something to do with Aoki’s golf business. 

What concerns the political world is whether, as Gendai puts it, the “sparks” from the Takahashi-Aoki investigation ignite other investigations involving public servants that have some connection to the Olympics. Apparently, the relief that certain parties felt when the organizing committee closed shop was premature. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics, it would seem, will never really end, but rather live on in infamy, maybe forever. 

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