French prosecutors are investigating Tokyo Olympics bid for possible bribery

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French prosecutors are investigating Tokyo Olympics bid for possible bribery

The Tokyo Olympics, which have been postponed to next summer due to the Covid-19 pandemic, are being re-examined.

A team of more than a dozen French prosecutors and police investigators are investigating corruption allegations in connection with the Tokyo Olympics bid, according to a top French public prosecutor overseeing the investigation. The investigation emerged from a five-year investigation into Russian bribes that allowed athletes to compete despite positive drug tests, resulting in multiple convictions by a French court last week.

The size of the program has surprised some French investigators, who believe the investigation could expand to other important events. “Corruption in some form has to be present at every major sporting event,” a law enforcement agency said. “The possibility[ies] Bribes are endless. “

Both the case just decided and the investigation center of the Olympic Games in Tokyo on payments to a Senegalese father-son duo. Lamine Diack headed the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) for more than 15 years, recently renamed World Athletics, the largest Olympic sports association. His son Papa Massata Diack worked as a marketing consultant for the IAAF.

In the case just ruled, French prosecutors alleged that the Diacks ​​and staff had requested about $ 4 million from athletes suspected of doping by the IAAF in exchange for hiding positive tests. Jean-Francois Bohnert, the head of the French finance prosecutor, confirmed to NBC News that the Diacks ​​are a focus of the bid process in Tokyo.

Speaking more generally about global sporting events, Bohnert said, “We see a mechanism of corruption” in connection with the Olympics. “Our place is … to pursue and see when corruption is at stake.”

Bohnert said the Olympics bribery investigation is still ongoing and it is too early to determine if any other sporting events were involved. He made no estimate of when the investigation could be completed.

According to Bohnert, international sports attract criminal activity for two reasons: huge sums of money that can easily circulate around the world via the international banking system, and a lack of institutional control. The individual sports organizations are not adequately monitored, said Bohnert, and as a group they are not accountable to any single global legal authority.

“If there is a vacuum space,” said Bohnert, “some very interesting people [come] in this field to do their illegal activities. “

Lamine Diack, center, former head of the International Federation of Athletics Federations, leaves a courthouse in Paris on June 10th.Thomas Samson / AFP via the Getty Images file

The Diacks, who deny wrongdoing, were convicted last week by a French court of taking bribes in exchange for stonewalling fines for Russian athletes who tested positive for doping. The 87-year-old elder Diack was sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of 500,000 euros. The son Papa Massata Diack, who remained in Senegal, was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison and a fine of 1 million euros. The Senegalese government has refused to extradite him.

“You have seriously undermined the fight against doping,” said Judge Rose-Marie Hunault as she delivered the verdicts and verdicts.

The attorneys of both Diacks ​​have filed documents to appeal the judgments.

Regardless, secret banking records examined by NBC News include a table of 112 transactions in which more than $ 55 million is flowing into and from bank accounts related to the Diacks, including accounts linked to the Russian doping scandal are.

The records, known as Suspicious Activity Reports, or SARs, are filed by banks and other financial institutions to alert law enforcement of potentially illegal transactions. However, they do not necessarily constitute evidence of illegal activity. The reports that are filed with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) of the US government are kept confidential and closely monitored by banks and government agencies.

The leaked documents are part of the FinCEN files, a collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, BuzzFeed News and around 400 reporters around the world. The leaked documents were obtained from BuzzFeed. To investigate the Olympics-related transactions, NBC News worked with reporters from Radio France, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, and Japanese news organizations Asahi Shimbun and Kyodo News.

Papa Massata Diack, son of Lamine Diack, the former President of the International Federation of Athletics Federations, is coming to Dakar, Senegal on September 14th to speak to the media.Sylvain Cherkaoui / AP file

In a FinCEN document, the $ 2.3 million inflow from a Tokyo Organizing Committee bank account is tracked when it tried to secure the Games. According to the document, the funds went to an account in Singapore, which was controlled by a friend of Papa Massata Diack’s shortly before and after the 2013 vote and which chose Tokyo as the host city for the 2020 Games.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars were then sent from Singapore to accounts controlled by the Diacks ​​in Senegal, as well as to luxury car dealers in Dubai, a jewelry dealer in the United Arab Emirates and a travel company based in Senegal.

The New York branch of Standard Chartered Bank was in control of the transactions as it was the correspondent bank providing services to a foreign bank to conduct business in dollars. The global financial industry is largely dependent on business in US dollars, and correspondent banking is a routine and crucial part of the international financial system that enables global trade and allows money to flow across borders almost instantly.

Correspondent banks like Standard Chartered are required to file suspicious activity reports with FinCEN when they identify unusual transactions.

In the case of the Tokyo Organizing Committee money, Standard Chartered filed a report more than two years after the transactions after the World Anti-Doping Agency and media accounts raised questions about the diacks. Red flags were listed making the transactions suspicious, including round dollar payments and the fact that Papa Massata Diack was identified as a politically exposed person who, because of his position, may be at higher risk of corruption.

These are indicators of illicit cash flows, said Graham Barrow, a London-based anti-money laundering expert. He checked the documents for NBC News and said that while Standard Chartered met legal requirements by reporting the transactions, it questioned whether it was too slow to notice red flags.

“That made my jaw drop,” he said. “This is really worrying.”

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“They would have thought that payments that size from the Tokyo 2020 committee would be given extra scrutiny,” said Barrow, who added that reports like this raise questions about regulations and oversight to prevent money laundering. “It is clearly not working very well,” he said.

Standard Chartered declined to discuss the transactions. A statement said: “Since 2014, we have significantly tightened the rigor of our screening and exit customers who were unable to meet our high standards, which significantly reduces the risk to our business. We have trained all of our employees and invested in building robust products. ” Compliance systems, including nearly 2,000 employees worldwide dedicated to preventing, detecting and reporting suspicious transactions. In 2019, Standard Chartered screened more than 157 million transactions for compliance with applicable sanction requirements and monitored more than 1.2 billion transactions for potential suspicious activity. “

A Standard Chartered bank employee said it was not uncommon for a SAR to be filed some time after transactions, as a payment pattern or the discovery of additional information may be required to reach the filing threshold.

FinCEN has refused to discuss the documents with reporters. It condemned the leak, saying it had referred the matter to the Justice Department and the Inspector General of the Treasury.

A Japanese commission examined the payments in 2016 and concluded that they were not a bribe and were not in violation of the law. The investigation was unable to interrogate the Diacks ​​or the owner of Black Tidings Co., the Singapore company that received the payments.

Haruyuki Takahashi, a businessman who worked on the offer in Tokyo, said nothing inappropriate had happened. “I never paid Diack any money,” he told Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, NBC News’ partner for the article, on the eve of the verdict, adding that he had a Seiko watch worth several hundred dollars and Lamine Diack A Canon digital camera valued at approximately $ 100, both within the allowance for gifts.

“Regarding the application process for the Tokyo Games, I asked Diack and others for their cooperation and they were all passionate about our cause. And in the end everything worked out fine. I was really grateful,” he said in a statement.

The rejection of the Diacks

The Diacks, meanwhile, maintain their innocence and have filed documents to begin the appeal process.

Lamine Diack’s attorney, Simon Ndiaye, spoke in front of the courtroom after the verdict and called the verdict “unjust” and “inhuman”. He suggested sacrificing his client in the name of political correctness.

In an interview from his home in Senegal, Papa Massata Diack said he had emphatically denied the French court’s conclusions, claiming that his “rights of defense” were violated during the June trial.

When the Senegalese Prime Minister refused to extradite the younger Diack four years ago, he said: “We will never give up a son.” French prosecutors said there was a pending arrest warrant for Papa Massata Diack. The French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, the French Ministry of Justice and the Senegalese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The younger Diack described himself as a “seller of dreams” and worked as a marketing consultant for the IAAF from 2001 to 2002 and from 2007 to 2015 during his father’s tenure. He linked sponsors and broadcasters to major sporting events. He alleged that the bribery allegations were a “conspiracy” orchestrated by his father’s rivals on the International Olympic Committee and the IAAF to drive him out of office.

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“These allegations are completely unfounded,” he said. “After five years of investigation, show me the film in which Massata Diack receives a bag of cash or a payment in a hotel in Moscow … some money from Tokyo or Rio that has been sent to IOC members!”

“I never met [an] Athlete, I’ve never met a Russian official who asked me for a favor, “he said, emphasizing that at the time he was an advisor, not an employee, privy to internal IAAF decisions.

He admitted that it might have been a mistake for him to work closely for his father while the elder Diack was the head of the IAAF, but denied that inappropriate activities had occurred. He said he and his father were in support of the Tokyo and Rio 2016 Olympic deals for the result of their longstanding relationships with companies in both countries, rather than for pressure to cast votes for money. He said cash flows that French prosecutors have identified as potential bribes and the fruits of money laundering are simply the products of global business activity.

French prosecutors believe the Diacks’ beliefs are a sign that international sport can be cleaned up and hope that more laws will be passed to ensure the integrity of future international sporting events.

“In sport, people have to be confident that sport is something honest, especially at the Olympic Games,” said Bohnert. “This is really a problem for everyone in the world.”

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