Photo/Illutration Hironori Aoki, chairman of Aoki Holdings Inc., speaks at a news conference held in January 2020 to unveil the official uniforms for Japanese athletes competing in the Tokyo Games. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The former chairman of Aoki Holdings Inc. told investigators that a consultancy contract with a former Tokyo Olympic organizing committee board member covered Games business, according to sources.

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office is investigating Hironori Aoki, 83, the founder and former chairman of Aoki Holdings, and two others on suspicion of bribing the former committee member, Haruyuki Takahashi, to help the firm secure a sponsorship contract and approval for it to sell branded Olympic merchandise.

The four suspects were arrested on Aug. 17 over the bribery allegations.

Takahashi, 78, denies he took 51 million yen ($378,580) in bribes from Aoki Holdings, a business wear company. He said the consultancy fees he received had nothing to do with the Olympics.

But the sources said the former Aoki chairman indicated to prosecutors that the consultancy contract was signed with the intention of ensuring his company would win its sponsorship deal and gain permission to sell Olympic-branded apparel.

Takahashi’s consultancy firm signed a contract with an asset management company headed by the former chairman and others in September 2017, according to the sources.

A copy of the contract obtained by The Asahi Shimbun shows that the consultancy firm was commissioned to offer advice on the Aoki group’s management, present proposals on how to develop new business, provide relevant information and negotiate deals in the process, as well as carry out other entrusted tasks.

The consultancy firm stated in the contract that it would make the most of its expertise, experience, contacts and skills in offering its consulting services.

The asset management company began paying the consultancy firm 1 million yen per month in consulting fees the month after the contract was inked.

The monthly consulting fees were halved to 500,000 yen in October 2021, a month after the Paralympic Games ended, according to the sources.

The amount paid over the 54 months up until March totaled 51 million yen, the sources said.

The other two suspects, Takahisa Aoki, 76, former vice chairman of Aoki Holdings, and Katsuhisa Ueda, 40, a senior managing director of the company, admitted to investigators that the consultancy firm was also commissioned to offer advice on Olympic business, according to the sources.

The former chairman of Aoki told investigators that the consultancy contract did not exclude business related to the sports extravaganza, the sources said.

According to the sources, Ueda said during the investigation that the asset management company reduced the consulting fees because the Games ended, reinforcing prosecutors’ suspicions that the money was offered to bribe Takahashi to grant favorable treatment to Aoki Holdings in the Olympic-related deals.

But the former chairman and vice chairman as well as Ueda all denied during the investigation that the payment was intended as bribes, according to the sources.

In October 2018, the organizing committee appointed Aoki Holdings as a Tokyo 2020 Olympic Official Supporter and authorized it to sell official products, including business suits featuring the Olympic emblem.

Prosecutors suspect that Takahashi saw to it that the clothing company landed as an official sponsor and obtained permission to sell Olympic-branded apparel as his consultancy firm was under contract to the asset management company at the time, the sources said.