Land of rising embarassment

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Indy Lifestyle Online
This should be a moment of quiet satisfaction for Nagano, almost a year after the opening of the 1998 Winter Olympics, writes Richard Lloyd Parry. Instead there is an atmosphere of crisis and impending scandal in the small city in the Japanese Alps. A one-year anniversary ceremony planned for a fortnight's time will go ahead, but without its guest of honour, beleaguered Olympic president Juan Antonio Samaranch, who has chosen to stay at his Swiss office.

Despite the undoubted success of the 1998 Games as a sporting occasion, questions are being raised about the methods used by Nagano in its bid for them. At the very least, and by its own admission, the Nagano team entertained members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) with presents, geisha and tours in helicopters. But, according to a Nagano city councillor, they went further, spending "astronomical" sums on bribes and gifts in violation of IOC rules, and mounted a cover-up which continues even now.

Sixty-two IOC members visited Nagano for "inspection tours", at a cost of up to three million yen per person (pounds 16,200). According to one Japanese newspaper, 27 were accom- panied by their wives or friends. They were presented with first-class air tickets and the bidding committee paid the costs of meals, guides, interpreters and travel not only in Nagano, but on tours of Tokyo and Kyoto.

The itinerary for one IOC member from Western Samoa reveals the kind of hospitality being offered. He was entertained by the governor of Nagano prefecture at a haute cuisine restaurant where lunch costs pounds 110, plus pounds 70 for a female attendant. He was taken on a helicopter tour of the prefecture costing pounds 3,240. He dined with a former Japanese ambassador to the UN at a hot spring inn at pounds 250 a night. Geisha - female entertainers who sometimes work as high-class prostitutes - cost an additional pounds 160 for three hours.

The most extravagant spending was reserved for Mr Samaranch who was taken to the city on a chartered train. The bidding committee's budget was about pounds 10.5m between 1989 and 1991. Some pounds 4.5m of that came from public funds, although local citizens' groups suspect the true figure to be higher. But when they tried to sue the bidding committee for the misuse of funds, officials said they had burned 90 volumes of account books detailing their spending.

Even last week, officials could not agree on an explanation for this. The city mayor, Tasuku Tsukada, who served on the committee, said it was "common practice, nothing unusual in Japan" to destroy such documents. But another member, Junichi Yamaguchi, said that it was also done to avoid "offending" IOC officials who might not want the details of how they were entertained to be publicised.

Even 10 days ago, according to the city council member, Mr Tsukada was planning to burn Olympic documents. Another politician at the meeting denied the mayor had made this suggestion. By yesterday evening, the mayor's office had not responded to enquiries about this claim.

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