Paris Olympics chief says he faces legal probe over pay

The probe into Tony Estanguet adds to the legal woes of the organising committee (Bertrand GUAY)
The probe into Tony Estanguet adds to the legal woes of the organising committee (Bertrand GUAY)

Paris Olympics chief organiser Tony Estanguet on Tuesday confirmed that French investigators had opened a legal probe into his pay, six months before the Games begin.

Estanguet, who was attending the opening of a swimming pool in suburban Paris, was responding to a report on AFP earlier in the day that the investigation, by magistrates specialising in financial crimes, began "last week".

"I learned this morning that there would be an investigation," said the triple Olympic canoeing champion.

A source, who did not wish to be named, told AFP that the probe will look into the way Estanguet is paid as head of the organising committee.

That follows a report in the investigative newspaper Le Canard Enchaine last October that Estanguet uses his own company to bill the organising committee monthly, instead of drawing a salary.

Estanguet responded that he "doesn't decide his remuneration or its structure."

He has so far been spared the legal problems that have embroiled other members of the Paris 2024 team.

His annual remuneration of 270,000 euros ($290,000) before tax and bonuses was made public in 2018 after a furore over reports that he would receive almost double that amount.

A spokesperson for the committee said it was "astonished" by the investigation and denied that Estanguet was paid as an external consultant to avoid salary caps placed on charities.

Estanguet said: "Since the creation of the organising committee, there has been a remuneration committee with independent experts, a board of directors who have taken a position... and a general economic and financial control from Bercy (the home of the French finance ministry), who have capped my level of remuneration."

The financial crimes prosecutors' office in Paris declined to comment when contacted by AFP.

His basic pay is less than that of Sebastian Coe when he served as chief organiser of the 2012 London Olympics and received around £360,000 (421,000 euros) in the year of the Games, according to the organising committee's annual report.

Estanguet, the public face of the Paris Olympics, is seeking to focus attention on preparations for the sporting events at the July 26-August 11 Games.

The Olympics have been repeatedly tarnished by corruption in the past, either over the manner in which the Games were awarded or through the lucrative construction and services contracts that are part of the event.

- Legal woes -

The Paris organising committee was already the subject of three separate investigations into the possible misuse of public money and favouritism in the awarding of contracts.

The offices of the committee and Games infrastructure group Solideo have been searched by police, as have the homes of two other senior figures in the organising committee, Etienne Thobois and Edouard Donnelly.

Those cases revolve in part around sports management or events companies founded by senior Games staff before they started working for the Paris 2024 organising committee.

Around 20 different contracts are under the microscope, totalling tens of million of euros, one judicial source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

France's Anti-Corruption Agency had flagged possible problems with Estanguet's pay arrangement in a report in 2021 because of the organising committee's status as a charity.

- Nearly ready -

Paris 2024 organisers have been determined to showcase a different sort of Olympics, shorn of the common problems of vast over-spending, wasteful infrastructure investment, and corruption.

In a speech last month, President Emmanuel Macron called them "a unique opportunity to show the best of ourselves, obviously in the sporting world... but also what our country represents and knows what to do in terms of exemplarity and organisation."

Both the Anti-Corruption Agency and the French state's top auditor body were given oversight of the organising committee in a bid to root out graft.

The 2016 Rio Olympics featured large-scale corruption, which shocked the general public, leading the former Brazilian Olympics boss and the governor of the city to be convicted afterwards.

Several businessmen were also found guilty of bribing a Tokyo Olympics committee member in a scandal that soured the mood over the 2020 Games held in the Japanese capital.

Despite the legal problems, the Paris Games appear broadly on track, with almost all of the main building work finished and the budget over-spend relatively small compared with past editions.