IOC can’t escape Rio; top organizer Nuzman held in dawn raid
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The International Olympic Committee just can’t get away from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
The IOC is ready to put a rubber-stamp approval this month on bids from Paris and Los Angeles for the 2024 and 2028 Olympics, respectively, yet Olympic officials are once again answering questions about corruption in the bidding process, this time from 2009, when Rio surprisingly got more votes than Madrid, Chicago and Tokyo.
The 2016 Rio Games were already marred by trails of corruption, and billions of public money spent and several useless white-elephant venues spread around the city. Things got worse Tuesday when police raided the home of Brazilian Olympic Committee President Carlos Nuzman, questioning him over his role in what French and Brazilian authorities say was a vote-buying scheme to land the Olympics.
Police took suitcases, documents and a computer, and they displayed detention warrants to question Nuzman.
“The Olympic Games were used as a big trampoline for acts of corruption,” federal prosecutor Fabiana Schneider told reporters.
The IOC will meet next week in Lima, Peru, and is expected to award two Summer Olympics at once. The bid process was changed in part to reduce the opportunity for fraud. The IOC won’t have to worry about another Summer Games bid until 2025, when it would award the 2032 Games.
“Although the IOC has tightened rules and looked to rid itself of the mavericks and the crooks in its midst, it is hardly a surprise that a top-level organizer of the Rio 2016 Games is suspected of buying votes,” Alan Tomlinson, an Olympic historian at the University of Brighton, told The Associated Press.
Tomlinson said world-wide sports federations “remain an uncontrollable behemoth in global sports governance.”
Investigators said Nuzman — an IOC member at the time, head of the organizing committee, and now an honorary member — was a central player in buying votes for Rio’s Olympic bid.
Nuzman’s lawyer, Sergio Mazzillo, said his client would cooperate but “did not commit any irregularity.”
French and Brazilian authorities said Nuzman brought together businessman Arthur Cesar de Menezes Soares Filho, and Lamine Diack, the former head of track and field’s governing body who at the time was an IOC voting member. Soares Filho’s company, Matlock Capital Group, allegedly paid Diack $2 million into a Caribbean account held by his son, Papa Massata Diack.
Authorities said Lamine Diack, an influential African member from Senegal, was instrumental in organizing the African bloc of votes.
The widening case implicated four-time Olympic medalist Frank Fredericks. The former sprinter from Namibia has said a near-$300,000 payment he received via Diack’s son on the day Rio won the vote was for legitimate consultancy work. Still, Fredericks lost his place leading an IOC inspection team to visit Paris and Los Angeles.
In a statement, the IOC said it was cooperating with French and Brazilian authorities. It said Papa Massata Diack was never an IOC member, and said his father lost his honorary IOC membership in 2015.
“It remains in the highest interest of the IOC to protect the integrity of the candidature process and to address and sanction any infringements,” the IOC said.
The 75-year-old Nuzman was an IOC member for 12 years and one of the most prominent figures in bringing the games to Rio. The vote was held in 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark, with Rio defeating Madrid 66-32.
Chicago, the early favorite, was eliminated in the first round of voting, despite personal lobbying from the United States by President Barack Obama, who went to Copenhagen with his wife Michelle.
“This is quite damaging” to the IOC, said Andrew Zimbalist, an economist who recently edited a book on fallout from the Rio Olympics. “The IOC tried to say goodbye to Rio in August 2016, but the issues arising from the $20 billion plus extravaganza won’t go away.”
Soon after the Rio Games, IOC President Thomas Bach awarded Nuzman the “Olympic Order,” given to those who have made extraordinary contributions to the Olympics.
Bach lauded Rio and Nuzman at the closing ceremony a year ago.
“These Olympic Games are leaving a unique legacy for generations to come,” Bach said. “History will talk about a Rio de Janeiro before, and a much better Rio de Janeiro after the Olympic Games.”
In France, a 2-year-old investigation into corruption in sports first came to light with the arrest in November 2015 of Diack. The French have been looking into allegations that Diack, his son, and others were involved in blackmailing athletes and covering up failed drug tests.
The French Financial Prosecutors’ Office, which has been leading the inquiries, said Tuesday its investigations have “uncovered the existence of a system of large-scale corruption organized around Papa Massata Diack.” It also said its evidence indicates votes by members of the IOC and the ruling track body were “negotiated against payment to obtain city hosting rights for the biggest global sports competitions.”
There has been a steady stream of accusations surrounding the awarding of building projects since the games ended a year ago.
Former Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes is being investigated for allegedly accepting at least 15 million reals ($5 million) in payments to facilitate construction projects tied to the games.
Paes, who has denied wrongdoing, is one of dozens of top politicians implicated in a sweeping judicial corruption investigation in which construction giant Odebrecht illegally paid billions to help win contracts.
Associated Press reporter John Leicester in Paris and AP photographer Silvia Izquierdo in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.
Follow Peter Prengaman: www.twitter.com/peterprengaman
Follow Stephen Wade: www.twitter.com/StephenWadeAP