Washington, 18 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is struggling with one of the worst scandals in its history and is now facing at least four separate investigations into its activities -- some of which may involve criminal charges.
The scandal, which broke late last year, involves accusations, including improper behavior, bribery, corruption and tax fraud by some IOC members and members of the Olympic bid committee in Salt Lake City, Utah -- the host city of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.
The IOC is an international body that sets criteria and ultimately chooses cities that wish to host Olympic games. The Salt Lake City bid committee is made up of private and public leaders who sought and eventually won approval from the IOC to host the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. The Salt Lake City organizing committee supervises preparations for the Olympics and includes many former members of the bid committee.
The scandal centers around charges that during the bid process, some members of both the Salt Lake City bid and organizing committees gave IOC members and their families direct cash payments, scholarships, expensive gifts, real estate and even free health care in order to sway IOC votes to their favor.
In interviews with the U.S. media, Tom Welch, former president of the Salt Lake City organizing committee acknowledged that he gave $50,000 in cash to IOC member Jean-Claude Ganga from the Republic of Congo, and made a $10,000 contribution to the campaign of Chilean IOC member Sergio Santander Fantini, who was running for mayor of Santiago.
But Welch denies the payments were bribes, saying they were simply "contributions to the Olympic family." Welch resigned from the committee in 1997 after being charged with spousal abuse and before the current allegations were made.
Current Salt Lake City bid committee president Frank Joklik also acknowledged certain activities such as facilitating a real estate deal that resulted in a $60,000 profit for one IOC member, and paying for another IOC member's medical care. But he, too, denies they were bribes.
Regardless, both Joklik and senior vice president of the bid committee, David Johnson, have since resigned their posts.
As it stands now, the scandal is being investigated separately by the IOC, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the U.S. Olympic Committee and a Salt Lake City ethics panel.
The IOC has already completed its investigation and announced last week that it has sent letters to 13 of its members asking for explanations and clarification of activities during the bidding process. According to IOC officials, members have ten days to respond. If satisfactory explanations are not given, IOC officials say expulsion or sanctions may be necessary.
Jack Blum, a Washington attorney and a consultant to the United Nations and U.S. Justice Department on international law, told RFE/RL that each investigation has its own agenda.
Blum says the IOC investigation and those of the U.S. Olympic Committee and the Salt Lake ethics panel are what are called "policy investigations." He says the committee leaders are basically trying to decide whether they are running a corrupt organization and determine the best steps to deal with it.
On the other hand, the federal investigation, headed by the FBI, is a criminal investigation, Blum says. He adds that from just a cursory glance at the alleged improprieties, it seems as though a number of federal and state laws may have been broken.
Blum explains: "The (Salt Lake City) Olympic organizing committee is a non-profit organization -- it has only charitable and educational purposes. In this case, if they paid bribes and didn't report them on their tax returns, they will have violated the internal revenue codes and there might be criminal tax charges levied against them."
Blum says there are also U.S. laws against wire and mail fraud and commercial bribery, all of which are involved in the accusations. He adds that it is up to the FBI to determine which of these charges are applicable and prosecutable.
But George Dougherty, an FBI special agent in Salt Lake City, told RFE/RL that the FBI does not intend to tie its investigation to any one allegation. He said the FBI will look at the entire Salt Lake City Olympic bid process "from start to finish."
Dougherty says that if the FBI finds any federal violations, the agency will turn its findings over to the U.S. Justice Department for prosecution.
Some legal experts say the FBI may try to apply a law called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act to the case. The U.S. Congress enacted this law in 1977 and it prohibits U.S. companies from making suspect payments or bribes to foreign government officials. The law makes top level officials in a company criminally responsible for the acts of everyone in the company if they knew or had reason to believe that a bribe was being paid in connection with their business overseas.
But Blum says it is highly doubtful that this law can be applied in the Salt Lake City case.
Blum explains: "This act is strictly limited to payments by U.S. companies to foreign government officials. And here, we are not dealing with government officials, we are dealing with a non-profit organization -- the (Salt Lake) Olympic organizing committee. This is a situation that simply is not covered by the act."
Blum also says it is possible that foreign members of the IOC may be held accountable by U.S. law if they are shown to have engaged in criminal activity on U.S. soil.
Says Blum: "It depends on what happened, but if the bribes were received inside the U.S., we might very well assert jurisdiction over some of the foreign members of the Olympic committee that took the bribe. But I think that is kind of a sticky set of questions. I can't really say. One would really have to understand what happened, how it happened, and do an analysis of the facts to figure out whether they might be subjected to U.S. criminal law."
Blum says the FBI investigation will likely take a minimum of six months and perhaps even longer until anything actually begins to happen. He says the FBI must assemble all of the documentation, including records and bank statements, and will want to interview as many people as possible, including IOC members. This might be complicated, says Blum, if people begin retaining lawyers or requesting immunity deals.
Regardless of what the investigations uncover, Blum says the IOC scandal and investigation into its member's conduct might just have a positive outcome.
Concludes Blum: "I think this is an important thing for the (IOC) to sort out, especially as the Olympics are becoming an ever bigger financial undertaking -- both for the host cities and for all of the different sponsors. It has really become a huge business enterprise."