Salt Lake pair indicted

The two high-ranking officials who have been indicted in the Salt Lake City bribery scandal surrounding the successful bid for the 2002 Winter Games, protested their innocence on Thursday night and claimed they were being treated like common criminals.

The two high-ranking officials who have been indicted in the Salt Lake City bribery scandal surrounding the successful bid for the 2002 Winter Games, protested their innocence on Thursday night and claimed they were being treated like common criminals.

Tom Welch and Dave Johnson, who have been charged for allegedly trying to influence the votes of the International Olympic Committee by plying members with £685,000 in cash and other inducements gave their reaction to the charges.

"The idea that we defrauded the bid committee or anybody else is preposterous. So is the charge that we bribed anybody," Welch said in a live broadcast from Huntington Beach, California. "But that doesn't change the fact that we will be photographed and booked like common criminals."

Welch, who took no questions, said: "We will be acquitted and we will present a defence that the people of Utah will understand."

Welch, 55, who was president of Salt Lake's Olympic bid committee, and Johnson, 41, the former vice-president, were named in a 15-count felony conspiracy indictment. The US Justice Department accused the pair of drafting bogus contracts and falsifying bid committee books to conceal their activities. Prosecutors claim that the pair also diverted £89,000 for their personal use.

Johnson's attorney, Max Wheeler, disputed that, saying they used the money as part of the effort to land the Olympics for Salt Lake. Wheeler said: "What the government is doing from a moral standpoint is far worse than what Johnson and Welch ever did. It will cause irreparable harm to people in this community and the effort to put on successful Games."

A Salt Lake businessman and a former US Olympic official have already pleaded guilty in connection with the scandal, and a grand jury indicted the son of a South Korean IOC member for immigration fraud.

Welch and Johnson were considered the investigation's chief targets. Their indictment followed the collapse of plea bargain negotiations on Monday, when they rejected an offer to plead guilty to a single felony count of tax obstruction.

Wheeler said he expects the case to take at least a year. Others worry a trial could drag on as far as February 2002 and distract from the Games. "Such a trial will only rehash everything that has been said," Senator Orrin Hatch, of Utah, said.

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