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French Police Search Paris Olympics Offices in Corruption Investigation

The French police searched the headquarters of the Paris 2024 Olympics organizing committee and other offices on Tuesday as part of two corruption investigations over contracts signed in connection with the Games, prosecutors said.

While the scope and nature of the investigations were not fully clear on Tuesday, the investigations threatened to tarnish an image of integrity and transparency that the authorities overseeing the Paris 2024 plans had sought to project, after a string of past Olympic bids that were riddled by corruption allegations.

The offices of the Paris 2024 organizing committee, in Seine-Saint-Denis, a northern suburb of Paris, and those of a separate body in charge of Games-related infrastructure, in western Paris, were both searched by investigators, according to the National Financial Prosecutor’s office.

The prosecutor’s office, which handles high-level financial crimes and offenses, said that the searches were being carried out as part of two separate investigations, both inquiries into potential conflicts of interest, embezzlement and favoritism.

The first, opened in 2017, is related to procurement contracts signed by the Paris 2024 Olympics organizing committee, which is in charge of planning, organizing and financing the Games, in coordination with Paris City Hall, the International Olympic Committee, and the French sports authorities.

The second was opened in 2022 after an inspection that was carried out by the French Anticorruption Agency, an official government watchdog. It relates to procurement contracts signed by the organizing committee and by SOLIDEO, a body overseeing permanent Games-related construction that is currently supervising 58 Olympic and Paralympic projects, according to the company’s website.

The National Financial Prosecutor’s office did not provide further details on the nature of the contracts.

In 2021, the news agency Agence France-Presse reported that a confidential report by the French Anticorruption Agency on the organization of the 2024 games in Paris had warned of the “risks of impropriety” and “conflicts of interest” in the process.

Representatives for the organizing committee and for SOLIDEO confirmed the searches but did not provide details, saying only that they were “fully cooperating” with investigators.

A spokesperson for the organizing committee said that it had “stringent procedures” in place “to ensure the transparency and propriety of the several hundred contracts it has awarded.”

Multiple audits by the French Anticorruption Agency and by the Cour des Comptes, France’s national auditing agency, “have not raised the slightest wrongdoing,” the spokesperson added.

The Olympic Games will run from July 26 to Aug. 11 next year, and the Paralympic Games from Aug. 28 to Sept. 6. The games are expected to draw over 10,000 athletes and millions of spectators, in a very different atmosphere from the last ones, which were held in Tokyo in 2021 under strict Covid related protocols.

In January, the Cour des Comptes, estimated that the Games would cost nearly 9 billion euros, or $9.8 billion, up from an initial assessment of 6.9 billion euros in the bidding phase.

Judicial investigations can take years in France, and it was not yet clear whether the two inquiries disclosed on Tuesday would end with charges.

But Tony Estanguet, the president of the Paris 2024 Olympic organizing committee, had stressed that he wanted the organization’s conduct to be spotless.

“There is a shared determination to make these Games an exemplary project from every point of view: in terms of budgetary rigor, transparency and the environment,” he told Le Parisien in 2017, the year Paris won its bid to host the Games.

Organizers of Olympic Games in other countries have faced similar investigations in the past, repeatedly casting doubts on the integrity of the process.

In February, Japanese prosecutors accused Dentsu, a Japanese advertising giant, and other companies of conspiring to evade the public bidding process leading up to the Games, as part of a broad investigation into corruption surrounding the Tokyo Olympics.

In 2021, Carlos Arthur Nuzman, the former longtime head of Brazil’s Olympic committee, was sentenced to more than 30 years in prison after a judge in Brazil ruled that Rio de Janeiro’s success at securing the 2016 Summer Games was built on a bribery scheme. The decision came four years after he was detained as part of a joint investigation into sports corruption by investigators in Brazil and France.

And in the late 1990s, a bribery scandal erupted around the process in which Salt Lake City won the bid for the 2002 Winter Games, with a senior Olympic official acknowledging widespread corruption and two chief organizers indicted on charges that included conspiracy to commit bribery. Those organizers were ultimately acquitted by a federal judge, but the five-year scandal tainted the Games.

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Mohammad SHiblu

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