Nagano Burned Documents Tracing '98 Olympics Bid
By Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan
NAGANO, Japan, Jan. 20—Around March 1992, 10 large boxes of documents cluttering up Junichi Yamaguchi's office in City Hall were hauled away to a locked warehouse out back.
Then the trashmen drove them to the city incinerator, tossed them into the fire and burned up the only known accounting of how this little city in the Japanese Alps spent more than $14 million to land the 1998 Winter Olympics.
Yamaguchi, a key official in Nagano's Olympic bid committee, said the boxes contained records showing how Nagano paid first-class airfare for 62 International Olympic Committee members and many of their companions to visit Japan, how they put them up in fine hotels in Tokyo, Nagano and Kyoto, wined and dined them, entertained them with geishas, flew them around in helicopters.
The IOC's culture of luxury was embodied by the treatment IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch enjoyed during his visits to Nagano, which included gifts of an ornate sword, a painting and all-expenses-paid lodging in a five-star hotel suite.
Yamaguchi, in an interview today, said Japanese officials had to treat the visiting IOC members well if they had any hope of landing the Olympics.
"These people were the ones in position to write 'Nagano' at election time," Yamaguchi said. Noting that IOC members had asked Nagano officials not to publicize their activities, Yamaguchi said the burning of the books was a "courtesy" to them. He said Nagano officials worried that if the documents were made public, "it could cause unpleasantness to them. We didn't want that."
As the investigation into the Salt Lake City Olympics scandal widens, a new spotlight is being focused on the vast sums spent to woo the IOC before the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, which beat out Salt Lake City when the selection was announced in June 1991. Salt Lake City was subsequently selected to host the 2002 Winter Games.
So far, there have been no allegations in Nagano of the kinds of scholarships, free medical care, dubious real estate deals and sexual favors that have surfaced in Salt Lake City. But officials here acknowledge that they spent millions to entertain IOC members, whose decision controlled whether this town got billions of dollars in public works projects -- including a new bullet train to Tokyo -- as a result of landing the Olympics.
In hindsight, Nagano Mayor Tasuku Tsukada said in an interview today, it is clear major reform of the selection process is needed.
"The burden is too much" for small cities like Nagano to pay, said the mayor, a member of the Nagano bidding committee. "Some moderation, some balance" must return to the Olympics.
Officials here said the Nagano committee typically had to pay at least $10,000 for first-class airfare and $5,000 for lodging for IOC members, many of them from countries that never have snow and do not participate in the Winter Olympics.
When Samaranch visited in May 1991 -- a month before Nagano's selection -- he was brought to Nagano on a chartered, three-car train. Once here, he was given a sword handmade by a local craftsman and valued at more than $14,000, according to media reports.
Yamaguchi said he delivered to Samaranch a painting, a portrait of a geisha, done by a Nagano artist. Yamaguchi said the painting was a gift from the artist, not the bid committee. He said he could not confirm media reports that the painting was worth more than $14,000.
During the Games last winter, Samaranch stayed in the top suite at the Hotel Kokusai 21, which was rented by the Nagano Olympic Committee for 30 days. A hotel spokesman said Nagano Olympic officials paid $2,700 per night for Samaranch's suite alone -- a total of more than $80,000 over 30 days.
Samaranch is well known for his expensive tastes. When he visits Seoul, he normally stays in the $4,000-a-night presidential suite of the Shilla Hotel. Hotel officials said he has stayed at the hotel 17 times since 1985. Seoul housed the Summer Games in 1988.
The suite, a cavernous affair done in gilded Old-World style, has also hosted Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf and pop star Michael Jackson, who bumped Samaranch to a lesser suite when they both attended the inauguration of President Kim Dae Jung last February, just after the Nagano Games ended.
A citizens' group in Nagano has sued for the return of the tax money Nagano spent to win the Games, which accounts for about 40 percent of the total. The group says the $14 million official figure grossly underestimates what was actually spent, but proof went up in smoke with the books. Last week the group sent a letter to the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice, asking them to widen their investigation of Salt Lake City to include Nagano.
In addition to the money spent on entertaining IOC members in Japan, even more was spent on Japanese officials traveling around the globe entertaining them in other countries. Without the books, almost nothing is known about these trips.
"If there was no wrongdoing, there was no reason to destroy the books," said Masao Ezawa, the group's head, a weaver who has been crusading against the Nagano Olympics for 10 years. Ezawa has written a soon-to-be-published book on the "money-tainted Olympics" that alleges that Nagano beat out other cities by bribing IOC members. He said today that he believes the Japanese Olympic bid committee even gave money to other cities to withdraw from the selection process.
"The bidding process is all about bribes. . . . It's a very ugly part of the Olympics," Ezawa said. He calls the IOC members "dirty aristocrats" who demand lavish treatment. "Basically they are salesmen selling a commodity [the Games] to the highest bidder," the citizen activist said.
Several years ago Ezawa's group lost a court battle when it argued the burning of the documents was illegal. Japan has much narrower definitions than the United States about what constitutes a public document. An accountant had signed off on the books before they were burned and a final report -- which is largely pictures of the committee members and one page of finances -- is about all that is left on the public record.
The bidding period, from March 1989 until May 1991, was an era when Japan was almost impossibly wealthy. In those days of the country's "bubble economy," it would have been extremely difficult to find a Japanese official who would consider lavish entertaining and gifts for the IOC anything more than smart business.
Still, questions of the influence of power and money on the Nagano Games surfaced as soon as Nagano announced its intention to seek the Games. Eyebrows shot skyward when Yoshiaki Tsutsumi was presented as the pivotal player in the bidding process.
Tsutsumi, ranked by Fortune magazine as the richest man in the world for several consecutive years in the 1980s -- is a confidant of Samaranch and has close ties with the IOC. Tsutsumi is reported to be one of the largest private donors to the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, where the IOC is based. His name is engraved on a plaque there alongside Samaranch's.
Tsutsumi, a resort and railways mogul, owns hotels, ski resorts and property around Nagano. Many of the Olympic ski events were held at a mountain where he has property. Critics accused him of a conflict of interest in promoting the Games, because the massive amounts of public improvements benefited his holdings.
Tsutsumi could not be reached for comment today. But his office faxed a statement that defended Samaranch, saying all gifts he received went to the Olympic museum or his office.
"The gifts were given to the position of the president and not Samaranch personally," Tsutsumi said. "It think it is cruel for us to regard it the other way around."
Correspondent Akiko Yamamoto contributed to this report from Tokyo.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company