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The founder of a Japanese suit company has pled guilty to offering a member of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games organizing committee JPY28 million ($211,000) in bribe money to have the firm selected as an official event sponsor.

Hironori Aoki, 94, the founder of Aoki Holdings, pled guilty to those charges yesterday (December 22) at the Tokyo District Court. Prosecutors put forward that he, his brother Takahisa Aoki, and executive director Katsuhisa Ueda were all involved in bribing Harayuki Takahashi, who was an influential member of a Tokyo Olympics organizing committee that had been given responsibility for finding event sponsors.

The three individuals have all been charged with providing cash to Takahashi over 30 times between September 2019 and March this year. Takahashi Aoki was arrested in August on suspicion of receiving bribes.

This is the latest chapter in a full-blown investigation into alleged mass-scale corruption and bribery in advance of and during the Tokyo Games, which ran in late July and August last year after being postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

So far, multiple major Japanese companies connected to the Olympics have been investigated – including advertising giant Dentsu – and have had their offices raided.

To date, there have been five bribery investigations launched, and 15 individuals (including Hironori Aoki) have been indicted. Trials of those individuals are now starting to take place.

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Prosecutors have also claimed that a deal signed between Aoki Holdings and a consulting firm headed up by Takahashi in September 2017 constituted a bribe.

Takahashi, a former executive at advertising giant Dentsu, has claimed innocence on this front and has said that payment amounted to a legitimate consulting fee.

In terms of other executives who have been caught up in the affair, Shinichi Ueoni, former president of the ADK Holdings firm, has resigned from that role, while the chair of the Kadokawa Corporation, Tsuguhiko Kadokawa, has also been accused of paying bribes to Takahashi.

Takahashi had been allocated the role of finding sponsors for last year’s Tokyo Games by Yoshiro Mori, the ex-Japanese prime minister who at one point was chief executive of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee (before resigning in February last year over sexist comments).

Earlier this week, it was confirmed that efforts to bring the 2030 Winter Olympics to the Japanese city of Sapporo would be paused, in part because of the ongoing corruption scandal around last year’s Tokyo games.

Katsuhiro Akimoto, Sapporo’s mayor, said on Tuesday (December 20) that efforts to secure the games in eight years’ time will be halted “for some time” in terms of active promotion.

Akimoto said: “We recognize we cannot move forward unless we review our operations for the 2030 games and show that to the world … To start with, we have to take into consideration the case of the bid-rigging allegations.”

He added: “We will discontinue for some time any aggressive effort on such activities. We will review our bid to gain the true understanding of the people of the city.”

Last week, Naomichi Suzuki, governor of the Hokkaido prefecture in which Sapporo is located, said that the bid-rigging investigation represented a blow to Sapporo’s chances of gaining preferred bidder status with the International Olympic Committee in advance of that body's hosting decision (which is expected to be taken in 2024).

Image: Jamie Squire/Getty Images