Paris Olympic organizers’ headquarters searched in French corruption investigations

By Angela Charlton And Graham Dunbar
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

French investigators searched the Paris Olympic organizers’ headquarters on Tuesday as part of corruption investigations into contracts linked to the Games, according to officials, the third straight time graft allegations have dogged a Summer Olympics.

The Paris organizing committee said in a statement that a search was underway at their headquarters in the suburb of Saint-Denis, and said it was cooperating. It would not comment further.

Tuesday’s search and other related raids were linked to two preliminary investigations related to the Olympics that had not previously been made public, according to an official with the financial prosecutor’s office, who was not authorized to be publicly named according to office policy. One probe was opened in 2017 – the year Paris was picked by the International Olympic Committee as the 2024 host – and the other began last year.

Corruption allegations have hung over the world’s biggest sporting event many times – from accusations surrounding how the Games were awarded in the first place to how contracts for construction, sponsorship and team services were handed out.

Accusations of vote buying linked to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and the Tokyo Games in 2021 led to the removal of several members of the IOC.

Those scandals revived memories of ones surrounding the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games that led to reforms that limited IOC members’ contact with candidate countries, though did not entirely remove the scope for corruption.

But Paris 2024 had gone to lengths to prove it would be different. The biggest event France is hosting in decades, the Games are being billed as a celebration of openness after two Olympics closed off by the COVID-19 pandemic, and as an example of democratic celebration after two World Cups tainted by human rights concerns in Qatar and Russia.

The organizers and Paris city hall have stressed a spirit of transparency and social justice – including planning an opening ceremony outdoors along the Seine that will be free for up to half a million people. The Games are scheduled for July 26-Aug. 11, 2024.

Saccage 2024, an anti-Olympics group that argues that the Games cause widespread ecological and social damage, said it was “very pleased” the raids took place.

“For us, an event of Olympic proportions cannot be held without corruption,” the group said in a statement. “It’s the size of the event that makes it necessary, whatever the country.”

The probe opened in 2017 is looking into suspected embezzlement of public funds and favoritism, and concerns about an unspecified contract reached by Paris organizers, the prosecutor’s office said.

The 2022 one followed an audit by the French Anti-corruption Agency. The prosecutor’s office said that case targets suspected conflict of interest and favoritism involving several contracts reached by the organizing committee and Solideo, the public body in charge of Olympic infrastructure.

That body’s offices were also searched, prosecutors said. According to Le Monde newspaper, raids also took place at the headquarters of several companies and consultants linked to the organization of the Games.

Solideo oversees construction and renovation or more than 60 projects for the multibillion-dollar Olympics – including the athletes’ village in the Saint-Denis neighborhood that is set to provide about 2,000 housing units after the games.

The IOC said in a statement it was informed by the organizers that they are cooperating with authorities. It did not comment further.

The raids unfolded as the IOC executive board began a two-day meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland.

IOC president Thomas Bach told reporters early Monday the meeting “of course will be about Paris, where we have some good news after the visit of the coordination mission and after my visit to France, to President Macron, and also the organizing committee.”

Paris was awarded its Olympics six years ago – and at the same time the IOC also rewarded its only remaining bid rival, Los Angeles, with the 2028 Summer Games.

Avoiding a contested vote removed the scope for vote-trading and bribery in a process that has since changed again effectively to shut down public campaigning. Brisbane was picked two years ago as the 2032 Summer Games host after being pre-selected by the IOC to get exclusive negotiating rights.

The runup to the 2024 Games has seen turmoil in French sports.

Just last month, the president of the French Olympic Committee resigned following a period of intense infighting, prompting calls from Paris organizers for sports leaders to set differences aside and focus on delivering the Games.

Also, Noel Le Graet resigned as president of the French soccer federation in February after a government audit found he no longer had the legitimacy to lead because of his behavior toward women and his management style. Bernard Laporte resigned as president of the French Rugby Federation in January after he was convicted of corruption and illegally acquiring assets and handed a suspended prison sentence.

Last October, Claude Atcher was fired as chief executive of the Rugby World Cup. That event opens in France in September, and also will serve as a test of France’s security preparations for the Olympics. Atcher’s removal followed an investigation by French labor inspectors into his workplace conduct.

Dunbar contributed from Geneva. AP Sports Writer Samuel Petrequin reported from Brussels.