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Report assails Nagano over bid

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A new report on Nagano's successful bid for the 1998 Winter Games, ordered by the regional government, found that an "illegitimate and excessive level of hospitality" was handed out by the Japanese city.

The Nagano Prefecture Investigation Group Report comes more than 14 years after the International Olympic Committee chose Nagano over Salt Lake City in a close vote, even though the Utah capital was widely seen as better qualified to host the Olympics.

Salt Lake City went on to be awarded the 2002 Winter Games but sparked a worldwide scandal eight years ago when Utah bidders were accused of buying IOC votes with more than $1 million in cash, gifts, trips, scholarships and even medical treatments.

There were always similar concerns about Nagano's bid but no proof because records had been burned. Now, according to an abstract in English of the investigation group's report, dated Nov. 22, 2005, new problems with the Nagano bid have been documented, including:

Nearly $544,000 (all dollar figures are calculated at current conversion rates from Japanese yen) in souvenirs were given out during the bid, an average of about $5,700 per IOC member. The gift limit at the time under IOC rules was $200.

More than $4.4 million was spent to entertain IOC members during the bid, an average of about $46,500 per IOC member.

There was no accounting of how approximately $776,000 was used during the 1991 IOC session in Birmingham, England, where the host city for the 1998 Winter Games was selected.

One government official told the investigation group that the money was used for "lobbying and promotional activities, and simply there were no receipts. Therefore, a phrase like 'unaccounted for' is not right, because it sounds like somebody stole it."

The total price tag for promoting Nagano's Olympic bid was more than $24 million, almost five times as much as Salt Lake City's bid for the 1998 Winter Games reportedly cost.

The previously revealed destruction of 90 boxes of bid records — possibly, the report stated, at the request of the then-prefectural governor — "should still be viewed as a criminal act," because the records were supposed to have been maintained for five years.

A bid committee member told the investigation group that the records "probably included a great deal of IOC-related secrets and personal information — it might lead to trouble if the documents were kept."

The investigation group concluded the reason was because during the bid "illegitimate and excessive levels of hospitality were offered" that had to be hidden from Nagano citizens.

A signature was forged on a document required to take a ceremonial sword, reportedly valued at $13,000, out of Japan to be presented to then-IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch. The report suggests whoever forged the signature might be guilty of a criminal offense.

The report appears to confirm the suspicions many had after Salt Lake City became the subject of local, national and international investigations. Rumors had started shortly after Nagano's victory about IOC members having been provided with geishas and expensive artwork and electronics.

One story frequently told was that the Nagano bid committee reportedly gave members of the IOC expensive video cameras just before the IOC vote, while Salt Lake City's bid team handed out disposable cameras.

Among the critics was Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who blamed Salt Lake City's loss to Nagano on "corruption," later claiming "Japanese leadership just basically bought the Olympics. . . . We were swindled out of it."

But soon after the Salt Lake scandal surfaced, it was revealed that Nagano had set fire to its bid records. That appeared to make it impossible to verify allegations that the Japanese city violated IOC rules.

The Nagano investigation group, however, was able to piece together information at least about how much money was spent, by combing through a pile of documents that weren't destroyed and interviewing Japanese bid and Olympic officials. Their report does not include details of what the Nagano bid actually purchased for IOC members.

But even though the report "revealed new findings, including how much public money has been misused," there has been little reaction to it, according to journalist Tatsuya Iwase, one of five members appointed to the group created by Nagano Gov. Yasuo Tanaka in February 2004.

Despite the lack of interest, though, Iwase said in an e-mail that the advisory group is continuing to look at the impact of the Olympics on the finances of Nagano, a relatively rural mountain region known as the "Roof of Japan."

Anti-Olympic activists in Nagano have long questioned the amount of money invested in the 1998 Winter Games, complaining that residents have been left with little more than debt.

Tanaka's successful campaign to lead the prefecture, an entity similar to a state, focused on the need to investigate the Olympic bid further.

Repeated attempts by the Deseret Morning News to contact Tanaka about the report were unsuccessful.

Canadian IOC member Dick Pound, who headed the Switzerland-based organization's investigation in the Salt Lake scandal that resulted in the ouster of some members, said Friday he had not even heard about the Nagano report.

"It might be of interest," Pound said, even though the IOC investigative commission he led has long been "out of business." He was surprised at the size of some of the expenditures listed in the Nagano report.

"That sounds high to me," Pound said of the amounts the Nagano report said was spent on IOC members for gifts and entertainment. "But then some of my colleagues are higher maintenance than I am."

It was Salt Lake City's meticulous record-keeping that helped land its bid in trouble. The scandal started with a letter from an IOC member's daughter about the financial assistance she was receiving from bid officials.

The records even led to the two top leaders of the Salt Lake bid, Tom Welch and Dave Johnson, being prosecuted by the federal government on numerous felony charges related to the scandal, but the case was thrown out midtrial by a Utah judge in 2003.

Welch could not immediately be reached for comment about the Nagano report.


E-mail: lisa@desnews.com