Japan’s gentleman equestrian at heart of Olympics corruption probe

22-Jun-2019 Intellasia | Reuters | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Surrounded by reporters in March, Tsunekazu Takeda, teary-eyed and blinking as cameras flashed around him, explained his decision to step down as Japan’s Olympics chief.”I feel very bad that I’m causing a disturbance like this ahead of next year’s games in Tokyo,” he said. “I don’t believe I’ve done anything illegal.”

It was a spectacular fall from grace for the former Olympic equestrian, who served as the president of Japan’s Olympic committee for nearly two decades.

Takeda’s resignation, which takes effect in June, comes three years after allegations first surfaced that Tokyo’s Olympics bidding committee had paid more than $2 million to win the 2020 Olympics.

French prosecutors are investigating Takeda in the matter, although he has not formally been charged. He has denied wrongdoing, saying he believed the payments were for legitimate lobbying efforts.

“I did not personally have any involvement in the decision-making process,” Takeda said at a January news conference.

Takeda, who lives in Tokyo, declined to respond in specifics to questions Reuters posed in writing.

His lawyers, replying on his behalf, said that queries about Takeda’s past invaded his privacy and that many of the points raised by Reuters were “inaccurate” without providing details. The lawyers also said Takeda would no longer hold a public position after retiring from the JOC.

More than a dozen former business associates, family members, and acquaintances describe Takeda as mild-mannered and lacking business savvy. Some of them expressed surprise that he was being investigated in connection with Olympics corruption.

A panel appointed by the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) in 2016 cleared the bidding committee, which Takeda led, of bribery allegations. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has also closed its own ethics case on the matter.

But some politicians in Japan say the issue of who was involved with the alleged bribery scheme remains unresolved.

“This isn’t over just because Takeda decided to step down,” said Yuichiro Tamaki, the leader of the opposition Democratic Party For the People, who questioned Takeda in parliament. “In my impression, he seemed to be just a figurehead.”

ROYAL CONNECTIONS

The soft-spoken Takeda, 71, is a household name in Japan. He is the great-grandchild of Emperor Meiji, but his family lost their royal titles after World War Two.

Takeda’s father, Tsuneyoshi, was an avid horse rider who also led the JOC. After university, Tsunekazu Takeda followed in his athletic footsteps, competing as an equestrian jumper in the 1972 and 1976 Olympics.

He married in 1974. His former mother-in-law, Iku Matsumi, 99, and ex-wife, Masako Takeda, said that Matsumi helped Takeda buy a horse, worth the equivalent of $100,000 at the time, for the 1976 Olympics.

In 1994, Takeda helped establish the Royal Horse Riding Club in Tochigi, a rural area north of Tokyo, with Shimoren, a construction company, which paid for the project, four former board members of the company said. Takeda acted as an adviser but did not have a financial stake, one of them said.

Takeda, who was deeply involved in Japan’s equestrian federation, lent the venture an air of prestige, the former business partners said.

Hideki Yazawa, a Shimoren board member at the time, said Takeda advised the company to fill the club’s stables with expensive foreign horses, insisted that sand be imported from the United Kingdom and pushed for a VIP room for visiting dignitaries.

The club never attracted enough members to pay for the expensive fittings, Takeda’s former business associates said. After seven years, Shimoren declared bankruptcy and later sold the club, one of the former board members said.

Hisamitsu Yabe, one of the former Shimoren board members, said he did not blame Takeda.

“The bubble economy went bust and you couldn’t sell anything,” he said.

Takeda also ran a travel business called LTK Reiseburo Japan, which was started in 1979. The agency was merged into another company and re-formed as Setouchi LTK Travel in 2018, the company’s website showed.

‘SAFE PAIR OF HANDS’

Takeda was well-liked by the JOC staff. Three former staffers interviewed by Reuters use the word “gentleman” to describe him, a reference to both his aristocratic lineage and his temperament.

 


Category: Japan

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