'Thorough' Olympic bribery probe promised
USOC investigators hold first meetingDecember 29, 1998
Web posted at: 6:04 p.m. EST (2304 GMT)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Facing a two-month deadline, a panel appointed by the U.S. Olympic Committee to investigate claims that bribes helped Salt Lake City win the 2002 Winter Olympic games held its first meeting on Tuesday, its leader promising the work will be "thorough and prompt."
"Some of the allegations that have been made are disturbing," said George Mitchell, the former Senate Majority Leader who chairs a five-member group conducting one of several investigations into the circumstances of the Utah capital's winning bid. ( 498 K/24 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Salt Lake Olympics officials have admitted giving $400,000 in scholarships to 13 beneficiaries, including six relatives of International Olympic Committee members.
Free medical service also was provided to three IOC members, which included plastic surgery in one case. And more than $15,000 worth of expensive guns and skis were given to IOC members.
Mitchell was appointed last week by the U.S. Olympic Committee to head the USOC's investigating panel, which is expected to review any past improprieties and make recommendations for rules on future bid and selection processes. ( 374 K/20 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
The panel plans to submit a report to the USOC by February 28, and any criminal activity uncovered will be referred to the Justice Department.
Mitchell said that while the USOC panel did not have subpoena power "to compel people to testify under oath ... we have been assured full cooperation."
For the moment, no decisions have been made who will be interviewed. "You want to start and follow the trail wherever it may lead," Mitchell said.
He indicated the investigation into alleged bribery by Salt Lake City also might include Olympic bids made by other U.S. cities, including Atlanta, which hosted the 1996 Summer Games. "We will do what is necessary to establish fairly the context in which these events occurred," Mitchell told reporters at a Washington news conference.
Mitchell, who helped broker a peace accord in Northern Ireland, describes himself as an "informal" adviser in President Clinton's efforts to avoid an impeachment conviction in the U.S. Senate.
The former Senate leader said he hoped to continue in that advisory capacity. "My role in this commission will not preclude my activities with respect to the impeachment process," he said.
Accusations of scandal and bribery have rocked the Olympic movement, prompting the International Olympic Committee to call for the first inquiry, followed by Salt Lake organizers early this month asking an independent ethics panel to investigate.
The Justice Department is conducting a preliminary review of the case. Mitchell said he hoped there would be "minimum duplication" in the four separate investigations.
The IOC expects to wrap up its own probe by January 23. Salt Lake organizers, meanwhile, have said their ethics board would report its findings no later than February 11.
Any delays would likely irritate sponsors who pay an increasing percentage of the multimillion-dollar sports budget and have told Olympic brass they want the controversy dealt with swiftly.
Olympic officials have been contacting sponsors to assure them action is being taken to maintain the Olympics image of high ideals and ethics.
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