PARIS (AP) — A shell company in Singapore is increasingly emerging at the heart of what French prosecutors believe was an organized web of corruption in sports, with their suspicions now extending to Tokyo's winning bid for the 2020 Olympics.
In the months immediately before and after the 2013 Olympic vote, 2.8 million Singapore dollars ($2 million) is thought to have been transferred in two segments from a bank in Japan to the account in Singapore of a company called Black Tidings, French prosecutors said Thursday. The transactions were marked "Tokyo 2020 Olympic Game Bid."
Black Tidings is quickly earning a dubious reputation. Its account also was used to transfer funds in the cover-up of a Russian doping case, according to a World Anti-Doping Agency investigation. And the sports marketing consultant identified by WADA as the account holder has been closely tied to the family that ruled track and field for 16 years via the now-disgraced Lamine Diack.
As president of the International Association of Athletics Federations and member of the International Olympic Committee, Diack was one of the most influential men in sports. He is under investigation in France for suspected corruption, barred from leaving the country while the magistrates' probe continues.
His son, former IAAF marketing consultant Papa Massata Diack, is also wanted in France on bribery, money laundering and corruption charges, but is thought to be living in his native Senegal, out of reach of French magistrates. International police organization Interpol has put him on its "Red Notice" list of internationally wanted suspected criminals.
One of Papa Massata Diack's "very close" friends, Ian Tan Tong Han, is the holder of the Black Tidings account, according to WADA's investigation. They were so close that Tan named his child, born in 2014, "Massata," according to the WADA probe.
Funds from Black Tidings also were used to buy jewels in Paris worth some 150,000 euros ($170,000), according to two sources with knowledge of the probe. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of French secrecy laws governing judicial investigations. The purchases could strengthen French prosecutors' arguments that they are legally entitled to investigate the Diacks.
The widening of the probe to the 2020 Olympic bidding process will put heavy pressure on Tokyo organizers and the IOC, which has sought to distance itself from the corruption scandals at FIFA and the IAAF and insisted that it had cleaned up since a bid scandal more than 15 years ago over the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.
It's not the first time Japan has been linked to Olympic bidding irregularities. Japanese boosters lavished millions of dollars of "illegitimate and excessive level of hospitality" on IOC delegates during Nagano's winning bid for the 1998 Winter Games, according to a report ordered by the region's governor.
Nagano burned most of its bid records after the Salt Lake scandal, which led to the resignation or expulsion of 10 members and a ban on member visits to bid cities.
"Like any other organization, we are not immune to wrongdoing," IOC President Thomas Bach said Thursday in a statement for an anti-corruption conference in London. "In such cases, we have a proven record of swift action."
The French prosecutors probing suspected corruption by the Diacks said they were told the transfers to Singapore occurred in July and October 2013. Tokyo was chosen in September 2013 as the 2020 host, beating Madrid and Istanbul in an IOC vote in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
As an IOC member at the time, the elder Diack had a vote. As a high-profile figure, he also could influence blocs of votes.
In Tokyo, Olympic organizers denied any knowledge of the alleged payments. The Guardian newspaper in Britain first reported the suspected transfers to Black Tidings, but without naming sources.
In a statement, Tokyo 2020 spokeswoman Hikariko Ono said the committee "has no means of knowing these allegations. We believe that the games were awarded to Tokyo because the city presented the best bid."
Japan's top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, maintained Tokyo's bid was clean. He said the government has no plans to question the Tokyo Organizing Committee or conduct its own investigation but will "respond appropriately" if French judicial authorities ask for help.
Lamine Diack stepped down as IAAF president in August. He resigned as an honorary IOC member in November, a day after he was provisionally suspended by the IOC executive board. He served as a full IOC member for 15 years until 2014.
"As a result of our action, he no longer has any position in the IOC," chief ethics and compliance officer Paquerette Girard Zappelli said Thursday. "Nevertheless, we continue to actively look into the matter and have become a civil party to the French investigation."
A call to the office of a lawyer in France for Lamine Diack rang unanswered Thursday evening. The lawyer, Daouda Diop, has previously refused to comment on Diack's case to The Associated Press.
The French prosecutors said they received information of the two "Tokyo 2020 Olympic Game Bid" transfers in December. The prosecutors did not identify the source of their information nor say what the funds were for. But their office said it has evidence of "important purchases" in Paris financed by Black Tidings. It did not detail the purchases.
Based on this and other evidence, the office said it opened an investigation on Dec. 24, separate from their already existing and ongoing probe of the Diacks, "to determine the nature of the transactions ... and to verify if acts of corruption and money laundering were committed in the process of designating the host city of the 2020 Olympic Games."
Wilson reported from London. AP Sports Writer Jim Armstrong in Tokyo contributed to this report.