By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) -The headquarters of the Paris 2024 Olympics organising committee and those of its infrastructure partner were searched by police on Tuesday as part of investigations into alleged embezzlement of public funds and favouritism, prosecutors said.
The national financial prosecutor’s office (PNF) said the Paris 2024 headquarters were raided amid a preliminary investigation launched in 2017 into contracts made by the Summer Games’ organising committee.
The headquarters of SOLIDEO, the public body responsible for delivering Olympic and Paralympic infrastructure, were also being searched amid a preliminary investigation dating back to 2022, following an audit by the French Anti-Corruption Agency, the PNF added.
“Paris 2024 is cooperating actively with investigators to facilitate their enquiries and provide answers to all the questions raised as quickly as possible,” a Paris 2024 spokesperson said after the search ended at around 1730 local time (1530GMT), according to a Reuters witness.
“To ensure the transparency and propriety of the several hundred contracts it has awarded, Paris 2024 has adopted stringent procedures, and has set up an ethics committee together with an audit committee to supervise its activities.
“The audit conducted by the French Anti-Corruption Agency and five audits by the Cour des Comptes (Court of Auditors), in addition to the continued monitoring of our governance structures, have not raised the slightest wrongdoing.
“Throughout these audits and ongoing monitoring, Paris 2024 has demonstrated the effectiveness of the stringent procedures that it has continued to implement in collaboration with auditing and regulatory bodies.”
The Paris 2024 Olympics, which organising committee president Tony Estanguet has vowed will be “beyond reproach”, will be held from July 26-Aug. 11 with the Paralympic Games taking place from Aug. 28-Sept. 6.
The searches coincided with the start of a two-day International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board on Tuesday to discuss a number of issues, including the progress of the Paris 2024 Games preparations.
“We are aware that there has been a search by police of the Paris 2024 headquarters today,” an IOC spokesperson said. “We have been informed by Paris 2024 that they are cooperating fully with the authorities in this matter.”
The total budget for the Games has soared to 8.8 billion euros ($9.62 billion) from an initial assessment of 6.6 billion in 2017.
The infrastructure alone is expected to cost 4 billion euros from an original estimate of 3.2 billion. The cost is limited as most of the events will be held in existing facilities.
The main construction sites are the Olympic village and the swimming pool in Saint Denis, just north of Paris.
The cost of security, which according to the Cour des Comptes, France’s supreme audit institution, will reach at least 400 million euros, has not been included in the overall budget.
It is not the first time Olympics organisers have been the subject of an investigation.
Japanese prosecutors earlier this year indicted six companies including advertising giant Dentsu Group and seven individuals over suspected rigging of bids worth $320 million for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics.
The indictments followed months of investigations into alleged corruption in the planning and sponsorship of the Tokyo Games, held in 2021 after a COVID-19 postponement.
Dentsu has offered its “sincere apologies” and said it had set up a committee of outside experts to review the case.
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(Reporting by Julien Pretot, additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann and Woo Yiming; Editing by Alex Richardson, Alison Williams and Ken Ferris)