Heads roll in US Olympic bribes shame

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The Independent Online
THE SCANDAL that has rocked Salt Lake City, over allegations that bribes were paid to help its successful bid to stage the Winter Olympics in 2002,claimed its first victims yesterday when the city's most senior Olympic officials resigned.

As allegations of illegal inducements to members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), multiplied, the Salt Lake Olympic Committee president, Frank Joklik, resigned but will stay on until a successor is hired. He asked for and received the resignation of senior vice-president Dave Johnson. Two other officials were placed on paid leave.

In announcing his resignation, Mr Joklik confirmed that the bid committee which landed the Games had paid IOC members from Africa and South America cash and gifts, in one case more than $70,000.

The committee also paid for housing, travel and education expenses for IOC member relatives, and gave expensive gifts and free healthcare to IOC members and their families, he acknowledged. "It is clear that these disturbing actions were taken in an effort to win friends for the bid," Mr Joklik said. He did not believe bid votes were promised in exchange for the committee's largesse.

The New York Times said that the payments could have been made during an IOC meeting in Budapest in 1995.Salt Lake City won the competition to become the Winter Games 2002 venue by a landslide vote at that meeting.

Further allegations made yesterday included an Associated Press report that three months after the IOC awarded Salt Lake the Winter Games, an IOC member, named as Jean-Claude Ganga, from the Republic of Congo, may have been given a "sweetheart deal" to buy three luxury-home sites about 30 kilometres (20 miles) from the Olympic downhill course. Ganga allegedly earned $60,000 on the deal that was arranged through a member of the Salt Lake bid committee. Joklik confirmed that a bid committee member had helped put together the transaction.

The Salt Lake Tribune also reported that at least three relatives of IOC members were hired by Salt Lake companies, with the bid committee largely paying the salary of one of them.

Yesterday's resignations, the latest moves in what has become the worst ethics scandal in Olympics history, were announced after a joint session of the Salt Lake and US Olympic committees. The affair has cast an embarrassing pall over Salt Lake City, a place more usually associated with the Mormon Church, which is based there.

Even before the fresh allegations, there were four separate investigations under way into claims that nearly $400,000 was spent on educational scholarships for young people associated with IOC members. There are suspicions that some of the money may have been pocketed by IOC officials.

US West, a telecommunications firm, has announced it is withholding $5m in games sponsorship while the investigations continue.