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Samsung denies Olympics bid corruption allegations

Seoul, South Korea | AFP | South Korean tech giant Samsung on Tuesday denied allegations it illegally lobbied International Olympic Committee members to vote for Pyeongchang to host the 2018 Winter Olympics over the German and French cities of Munich and Annecy.

Corruption allegations surrounding Pyeongchang’s successful Olympic bid have seen Samsung accused of offering various incentives in return for votes.

South Korean broadcaster SBS TV said it had obtained copies of 137 emails including messages between Samsung executives and Papa Massata Diack — the scandal-tainted son of former International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) President Lamine Diack.

According to SBS, the mails included one listing 27 IOC members with voting rights to choose a host country and another suggesting Papa Diack had promised to convince each one to vote for Pyeongchang.

There was also one allegedly marked “strictly confidential” from 2010 in which Diack requested $12 million in funds — including a three-year, $9.5 million sponsorship for the Diamond League, an annual series of elite athletics meetings run by the IAAF.

“Samsung has never engaged in any illegal lobbying activities to have Pyeongchang win the bidding”, Samsung said in a press statement, stressing the company’s sponsorship agreement with IAAF was legitimate.

The emails dated February-December 2010 were confiscated by South Korean prosecutors several months ago during a massive graft investigation into former South Korean president Park Geun-hye and her secret confidante Choi Soon-sil, SBS said. Park was jailed for 24 years by a Seoul court on Friday.

The email request also included $1.5 million for political campaign funds for Papa Diack’s father, and $1.5 million for lobbying efforts for Pyeongchang for the six months ahead of voting in Durban to choose the hosting country in July 2011, SBS claimed.

On top of the $12 million, Papa Diack demanded an unspecified “success fee”, the e-mail showed. Pyeongchang comfortably won the vote to host the Games.

SBS did not publish any evidence of Samsung making payments in response to Papa Diack’s request. As an Olympic title sponsor Samsung is prohibited from lobbying for any host city.

Samsung’s chief Lee Kun-hee, an IOC member until last year, was convicted of tax evasion in 2008. Months later then-president Lee Myung-bak controversially pardoned him so that he could be involved in the Pyeongchang 2018 bid.

In its statement Tuesday, Samsung said Lee had made various efforts to help South Korea win hosting rights for the Winter Olympics, in two unsuccessful bids for the 2010 and 2014 Games and the third successful bid for the 2018 Games.

Samsung said it was inappropriate to frame his efforts as behind-the-scene collusion between businesses and the government.

Papa Diack has already been handed a life ban from athletics for corruption and accused of wrongdoing in two other Olympic bidding contests. He is based in Senegal, where authorities have said he will not be extradited.

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