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Former Tokyo Olympic official appears in court and says he's not guilty of taking bribes

TOKYO (AP) — Haruyuki Takahashi, a former Tokyo Olympics organizing committee member, appeared in a court on Wednesday and said he was not guilty of taking bribes connected to the Tokyo Games.

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

Wearing a gray suit and blue tie, Takahashi sat silently while one of his defense lawyers read from a document for about two hours before a panel of three judges at Tokyo District Court.

His lawyers argued that the money Takahashi received was not bribes but legitimate consulting income as a sports marketing expert.

The defense also argued the Tokyo organizing committee had no power to make marketing decisions on sponsors or licensing, which was the realm of Dentsu, the powerful Japanese advertising company that headed Tokyo Olympic marketing.

The defense acknowledged Takahashi held power with Dentsu, where he previously worked. It also acknowledged Takahashi had close relations with International Olympic Committee officials and others in the sports world.

The next trial date was set for Feb. 22.

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 corruption investigations around the Tokyo Olympics are the latest to soil recent Games. French investigators have this 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.

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AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

Yuri Kageyama And Stephen Wade, The Associated Press