Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who led the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics organizing committee until he had to quit over sexist remarks, has been questioned by prosecutors on a voluntary basis over the widening corruption scandal involving a former executive of the body, sources close to the matter said Friday.
The prosecutors have been seeking to establish a bribery case against Haruyuki Takahashi, who allegedly received money from two companies in return for helping them be selected as sponsors of the Summer Games last year.
Mori, a key figure in Tokyo's bid to host the Olympics, is believed to have met with Takahashi, who has served as a window for companies seeking to become sponsors, and officials of Kadokawa Corp. before the publisher was chosen as a sponsor of the games in April 2019, according to the sources.
The 85-year-old former prime minister, who took the helm of the organizing committee in 2014, is also believed to have met with Hironori Aoki, who founded business suit retailer Aoki Holdings Inc., around July 2017 through an introduction by Takahashi, said the sources.
Aoki became a sponsor in October 2018. But the 83-year-old former chairman of Aoki Holdings has since been charged with bribe-giving.
According to Takahashi, several meetings were held between Mori, Aoki and himself. The sources said the Tokyo prosecutors' special investigation squad has obtained voice recordings from when they met and apparently discussed sponsor issues.
"I think that will be determined by the fall when the (2019) Rugby World Cup ends," one of the sources quoted Mori as saying in the recordings.
A lawyer representing Mori declined to comment on the questioning by the special squad. A Kadokawa spokesman also declined to comment on its meeting with the former prime minister, who wielded huge influence in sports circles.
As for ties with Aoki, the lawyer earlier said in a written response that Mori has never talked with Takahashi or Aoki about the selection of sponsors.
Takahashi, meanwhile, has told investigators that he introduced Aoki to Mori but that he never proposed choosing the retailer as a sponsor, the sources said.
Takahashi, a former senior managing director of Japan's largest advertising agency Dentsu Inc., was indicted Tuesday for receiving bribes totaling around 51 million yen ($354,000) from Aoki Holdings. He was also served a fresh arrest warrant on the same day for allegedly accepting bribes from Kadokawa.
Takahashi was deemed a quasi-civil servant when he was serving as an executive of the now-defunct organizing committee.
During the voluntary questioning with Mori, the special investigative team is believed to have sought to confirm what was discussed during the meetings with Aoki Holdings and how Takahashi became one of the executives of the committee.
The questioning was carried out after Aoki and two others from the retailer were arrested on Aug. 17, according to the sources.
Mori, who was Japan's prime minister between 2000 and 2001, is known for having played a pivotal role in promoting sports, but this has often been overshadowed by numerous controversial remarks.
His comments months before the opening of the Tokyo Olympics that meetings involving women tend to drag on sparked global outrage and led to him being replaced in February 2021 by Seiko Hashimoto, the bronze medalist in the 1992 Winter Olympics women's 1,500-meter speed skating event.