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Olympics: Japan's Yamashita appointed chief as Takeda resigns in graft probe

TOKYO (Reuters) - The Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) picked former Olympic judo champion Yasuhiro Yamashita as its new chief after the resignation of Tsunekazu Takeda, who is being investigated for suspected corruption related to the Tokyo 2020 bid.

Yamashita won nine consecutive national championships during his judo career and a gold medal in the men’s open-weight category at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. He has been chairman of Japan’s judo federation and a JOC executive.

French prosecutors have questioned Takeda in Paris and placed him under formal investigation in December as part of their corruption inquiry.

Takeda, who was president of the 2020 bidding committee, has apologized for “causing disturbance to the public” and resigned from the International Olympic Committee, but has maintained his innocence.

“I feel the weight of responsibility of becoming the chairman at this time,” Yamashita told a news conference in Tokyo, the Japanese capital.

“I believe in Mr. Takeda’s innocence and that such a verdict will be handed down eventually.”

He pledged to boost the integrity and governance of the JOC, but gave no details.

Takeda, who has headed the JOC since 2001, is still listed as an executive on the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee. It was not clear whether he would remain in that role.

French investigators are in the midst of a years-long inquiry into corruption in athletics, and early in 2016 extended their inquiry into bidding and voting for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

French judges decided that former global athletics chief Lamine Diack will be tried on charges of corruption, money laundering and breach of trust over a scheme to cover up athletes’ doping.

A little-known Singapore consulting company, Black Tidings, served as a conduit for bribes between athletes and Diack, an independent commission of the World Anti-Doping Agency said in its 2016 report.

The commission said Black Tidings’ owner, Tan Tong Han, was close friends with Diack’s son, Papa Massata Diack.

The French authorities are looking into payments of more than $2 million from the Tokyo bidding committee to Black Tidings in 2013, according to the documents seen by Reuters.

French prosecutors are investigating whether Tokyo’s payments to Black Tidings were bribes to Lamine Diack, through his son, in exchange for influencing African members’ votes on the 2020 bids.

The company stopped operating in 2014, according to a Singapore business filing. Tan could not be immediately reached for comment.

Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Gerry Doyle