Former Tokyo Olympics official pleads not guilty in bribery case

TOKYO -- Haruyuki Takahashi, a former member of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee, appeared in a Tokyo district court on Thursday and pleaded not guilty to taking bribes tied to the Games.

Takahashi was arrested more than a year ago and its unclear when his trial will end.

The defense will present its case early next year.

A former executive with the powerful Japanese advertising company Dentsu, Takahashi is charged with accepting around 198 million yen ($1.4 million) in bribes in exchange for awarding Olympic contracts for the 2021 Tokyo Games.

Takahashi appeared in court just nine days after a separate bid-rigging trial was adjourned with Dentsu and five other companies facing criminal charges. That trial is to resume early next year.

"I assert my innocence on all the charges," Takahashi, wearing a gray suit and burgundy tie, told the judge before the prosecution presented its case. "It was strictly business and it was not a bribe."

The indictment says Takahashi received bribes from business suit retailer Aoki Holdings, publisher Kadokawa and others. Sun Arrow, one of the companies implicated, produced the stuffed toy version of the Olympic mascot, Miraitowa, and Paralympic version, Someity.

About a dozen people have already been convicted in related bribery cases, but all have received suspended sentences.

The myriad corrupution investigations around the Tokyo Olympics are the latest to soil recent Games. French investigators have next year's Paris Olympics under scrutiny over how contracts are awarded.

Though the Olympics are funded partly by private money, they also rely heavily on taxpayer funding. In the case of Tokyo, at least 50% was public money. Tokyo says it officially spent $13 billion on the Tokyo Games, but a government audit says it might be twice that much.

Reports of corruption in the Tokyo Olympics stretch back to at least 2013 when the International Olympic Committee voted to award the Games to the Japanese capital. French prosecutors have looked into allegations that some International Olympic Committee members were bribed to vote for Tokyo.

That scandal also forced the resignation in 2019 of Japanese Olympic Committee head Tsunekazu Takeda, who was also an IOC member and the head of its marketing department.

As the Tokyo Olympics have been mired in controversy from the beginning, the scandals have cost the northern city of Sapporo a strong chance to hold the 2030 Winter Olympics.

Former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who headed the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee, was forced to step down after making derogatory comments about women.

The Games also allowed the Tokyo city government to make zoning changes to construct the National Stadium. Those zoning changes jeopardize a park called Jingu Gaien near the stadium, where developer Mitsui Fudosan has a controversial plan to build three skyscrapers and cut thousands or trees in the park space.