Investigation into corruption inside Paris 2024 set to loom over Olympic Games

The Paris Olympic organising committee is being investigated by French authorities  (Getty Images)
The Paris Olympic organising committee is being investigated by French authorities (Getty Images)

A police investigation into corruption at the heart of Paris 2024 will almost certainly not be concluded before the Olympics begin in July and is set to hang over the Games while they play out this summer.

The French National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF) raided a number of locations in June last year, including the headquarters of the Paris 2024 organising committee, the offices of contractors hired by the committee, and the homes of Paris 2024 CEO Etienne Thobois and his executive director of operations, Edouard Donnelly.

No charges have been brought against any individuals or organisations and those implicated have denied wrongdoing.

The Independent understands that the investigation into “illegal conflict of interest, misuse of public funds and favouritism” is very unlikely to be wrapped up before the opening ceremony on Friday 26 July. A spokesperson for the PNF told The Independent that the inquiry was still continuing “with analysis by investigators of the numerous documents seized”.

The lack of any imminent resolution before the Games is a blow to both the organising committee and the French government, both of whom have sought to downplay the significance of the investigation as they prepare for the Olympics to begin.

The French minister for sport and the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Amelie Oudea-Castera, said she had “no specific concerns” after being questioned about the case, while Paris 2024 president Tony Estanguet dismissed comparisons with major corruption scandals at the Rio and Tokyo Olympics as unfair.

The PNF has also sought to play down the seriousness of the matter, suggesting it will not uncover “the most serious cases of corruption” and stressing that investigators do not want to disrupt the Olympic Games.

“It’s about favouritism, of illegal interest-taking,” said the head of the PNF, Jean-Francois Bohnert. “It’s about the way certain contracts have been distributed, the arrangements… But I don’t see any elements, at least not at this stage, that would lead the investigation towards the most serious cases of corruption or influence peddling.”

In a statement issued to The Independent, Paris 2024 said: “We are taking the situation very seriously and are actively collaborating with the investigators to facilitate their inquiries and provide all the answers to the questions raised as quickly as possible.

“To ensure the transparency and regularity of several hundred contracts, Paris 2024 has adopted stringent procedures and set up an ethics committee and an audit committee to oversee its activities. Paris 2024 is also undoubtedly one of the most audited organisations in France (one audit by the French Anti-Corruption Agency, five audits by the Cour des Comptes), in addition to the ongoing monitoring of its governance, and has never been made aware of any wrongdoing. Paris 2024 has been able to demonstrate in past audits the effectiveness of these demanding procedures, which it will continue to enforce in collaboration with the audit bodies.

“Paris 2024 naturally hopes that the information provided will quickly rule out any suspicion of the Organising Committee and its employees. If necessary, this procedure may give rise to subsequent hearings and/or requests for additional information. Should this situation arise, Paris 2024 hopes that it will intervene as soon as possible to clarify the matter.

“Today, we are hard at work and focused on the success of the Paris 2024 Games.”

The pay of Paris 2024 president Tony Estanguet is also under review (AP)
The pay of Paris 2024 president Tony Estanguet is also under review (AP)

The PNF is also conducting a linked investigation into Michael Aloisio, the deputy general director of Paris 2024, after a former employee alleged that Aloisio used his influence to help an events company, RNK, secure a contract related to a bid for the 2030 Winter Olympics. Aloisio has strongly denied the allegations.

And in a separate investigation, Paris 2024 president Estanguet is having his pay scrutinised by magistrates who specialise in financial misdemeanours. It has been claimed that he is being overpaid because Paris 2024 is subject to charitable status and therefore any salary should be capped.

Estanguet denies wrongdoing and the organising committee insists it is not subject to such rules, saying: “The profit-generating nature of [our] business, linked to commercial revenues – partnerships, ticketing and TV rights – has been confirmed via a tax ruling.”