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Three International Olympic Committee employees fired in museum embezzlement case
A visitor looks at Olympic Torches in the Olympic Museum of the International Olympic Committee, IOC, in Lausanne, Switzerland, 02 December 2011. EPA/LAURENT GILLIERON.

By: Stephen Wilson, Associated Press

LONDON (AP).- The IOC's finance department is being overhauled in the wake of an embezzlement scandal at the Olympic Museum involving up to $1.85 million. Three members of the department have been fired for "negligence" in the alleged fraud by the former manager of the museum shop in Lausanne, Switzerland, International Olympic Committee director general Christophe De Kepper told The Associated Press on Thursday.

In a separate development, IOC finance director Thierry Sprunger told the AP he has decided to resign from his post, citing health issues, "burnout" and a desire to change direction after 17 years at the IOC.

Sprunger, whose department was responsible for oversight of the museum's finances, said he will announce his departure next week at a meeting of the IOC executive board in Lausanne. He has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

The former manager of the museum shop — which is located in the museum lobby and sells souvenirs, trinkets and other Olympic items — has been arrested and jailed on charges of embezzling between $1.6 million to $1.85 million over a 10-year period, De Kepper said.

The impropriety allegedly involved false invoices and bogus companies.

The shop manager, identified as Hiroshi Grieder, had already left the job in 2010 for other reasons, De Kepper said. The alleged embezzlement was discovered and reported by his successor in September.

"We discovered the fraud and immediately launched an investigation," De Kepper said. "Based on the results of the investigation, we dismissed three people. We launched a criminal complaint and we are also reviewing our internal controls and procedures."

The three staff members, whom he did not identify, were not accused of corruption.

"They did not do their job in controlling the financial movement around the museum boutique," De Kepper said. "They are not accused of embezzling anything, just negligence."

"There was no corruption inside the IOC," he added. "There is zero tolerance. As soon as we discovered the facts, we took action."

De Kepper said he was aware of Sprunger's imminent departure.

"I know that he's thinking about making an announcement to the IOC EB next week," he said. "It is clear that he has not been involved with the (wrongdoing) surrounding the museum boutique."

Sprunger, who said he returned to work Thursday after being on sick leave for a month, acknowledged the impact of the scandal.

"I'm very unhappy about it," he said in a phone interview. "As finance director, ultimately something happens, it's going to come back on your shoulders."

But Sprunger said he discovered the embezzlement in the books and reported it to an internal audit. He said he was leaving on his own volition and not because of the case.

"I'm leaving because I'm 50 and I want to do something new," he said. "I'm 50 years old. I want to move on to something else. This has been coming for months. I've had this burnout."

Sprunger, who was hired by the IOC in 1994 and became the finance director in 2003, said he has notified IOC President Jacques Rogge of his decision and will tell the executive board next Wednesday.

The Olympic Museum, which is home to Olympic memorabilia and exhibits, was opened in 1993 on a hill overlooking Lake Geneva and has welcomed more than 3.3 million visitors. In an unrelated development, the IOC announced Thursday that the museum will offer free admission until the end of January before closing for a 20-month renovation project.

The IOC has been vigilant in guarding against corruption since the Salt Lake City bid scandal. Ten members resigned or were expelled for receiving cash, gifts and other improper benefits during Salt Lake's winning bid for the 2002 Winter Games. Since then, a series of reforms were adopted, including creation of an ethics commission and a ban on visits by members to bid cities.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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