All the president’s men – and the corruption scandals surrounding Rio 2016

Photo: Agência Brasil Fotografias/Flickr

Carlos Nuzman. Photo: Agência Brasil Fotografias/Flickr


By Mads A. Wickstrøm
A series of ongoing investigations in Brazil and France displays the extensity of corruption surrounding last year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. IOC reaffirm its commitment to protect the integrity of sport.

On September 5, Carlos Nuzman, president of Brazil’s National Olympic Committee (COB) was taken into custody by Brazilian police in Rio de Janeiro and is currently facing allegations of corruption relating to the bidding processes for Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020. Nuzman, who also headed of the Rio 2016 Organising Committee, is accused of being involved in a $1.5 million scheme used to secure the votes of International Olympic Committee (IOC) members in support of the Brazilian bid for the 2016 Olympic Games.

On September 5, state police seized nearly $153.000 in cash, from Nuzman’s home, according to Brazilian newspaper O Globo. The amount was reportedly split into at least five different currencies.

Following the arrest, Nuzman’s lawyer, Sergio Mazzillo, told reporters that his client was innocent of any wrongdoings.

“I can confirm that [Nuzman] did not commit any irregularity. Unfortunately, this has created a media spectacle,” Mazillo said, according to The Guardian.

Brazilian prosecutors are saying that Nuzman provided the links between former governor of Rio de Janeiro, Sergio Cabral, Brazilian businessman, Arthur César de Menezes Soares Filho, and Papa Massata Diack, former International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) executive, whose influence among a number of African countries is said to be significant.

Cabral has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for receiving illicit payments from construction firms in return for awarding them beneficial contracts, some linked to Olympic construction projects. Papa Diack remains in Senegal with an Interpol arrest warrant in his name, writes the Guardian.

Allegedly, Nuzman facilitated a $2 million payment made by Soares into bank accounts belonging to Diack a few days before Rio won the right to host the Olympic Games.

“Nuzman was the bridge that linked the criminal scheme together [...] he was greasing the wheels to organise the payment of bribes from Cabral directly to African members of the IOC, which was done via Arthur Soares,” federal prosecutor, Fabiana Schneider told reporters, according to The Guardian.

“Without his presence and the negotiation he established, the ingenious and corrupt complex relationship could not have achieved the success it did,” federal prosecutors wrote in a statement about Nuzman.

Head of IOC 2024 Olympics evaluation commission forced to step down

Earlier this year, former Olympic sprinter, Frankie Fredericks was compelled to stand down as head of IOC’s evaluation commission for the 2024 Olympics due to allegations over payments received from Papa Diack. Fredericks, who is also a member of the IAAF council, has claimed his innocence saying that the money received from Diack was payment for consultancy work he had carried out for the IAAF.

In March, French newspaper, Le Monde reported that the money payed by Diack to Fredericks came from Brazilian Arthur Soares. Le Monde wrote that the money was intended to influence IOC voters prior to the 2009 election which saw Rio as the host of the 2016 Games.

Fredericks has been provisionally suspended from athletics due to an ongoing investigation by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) over the payments received by Diack. Fredericks responded to the AIU decision to suspend him in a statement issued by his spokesman.

“The decision [to suspend] dwells on the origination of payments from an entity related to Diack and the fact that the latter is currently under investigation. This fact was not known to Mr. Frank Fredericks at the time of contracting and dealing with this person in the period from 2007 to 2011, at which time Diack was also not under investigation and furthermore served as a high-ranking official within the IAAF,” Fredericks said, the Daily Mail reports.

The AIU, however, said that the provisional ban was in the interests of the sport because the allegation was sufficiently serious and thus needed careful investigation.

The IOC needs to act with more ‘teeth’

The accusations made against Carlos Nuzman last week marks the latest in a growing number of corruption allegations made against members of the IOC. Senior IOC member, Dick Pound wants his organisation to respond to the vote-buying scandal with “more teeth”, saying that the Olympic body has been too passive towards members who are engaged in dishonest practices.

“We need some more teeth in this, because we are taking hit after hit in the eyes of the world, and we’re not seen to be doing anything,” Pound said, following the arrest of Nuzman.

“In fact, we probably aren’t doing much other than waiting to see if somebody else tells us that one of our members is offside — or several members are offside,” he added.

According to Pound, there were reports that Nuzman was a poor leader of the Games in Rio and that many of the problems with the Games were created, not solved by Nuzman.

“There were clearly all kind of complaints about him, about his conduct coming out of Brazil and going to the IOC. I remember because I got copied on some of them. So the fact there was smoke or concern, it must have been pretty obvious,” Pound told the Associated Press.

On September 11, the IOC Executive Board met in Lima to discuss, the allegations made against its members following the Olympic Games in Rio. In a declaration, the executive board reaffirms its commitment to protect the integrity of sport and promises to address the infringements made by its members.

“The IOC Executive Board reaffirmed today that it goes without saying that infringements from the past will also be addressed. With regard to the investigation around the former IAAF President, Mr Lamine Diack, and his son, Mr Papa Massata Diack, the French prosecutor has stated that there are indications that payments have been made in return for votes “over the designation of host cities for the biggest global sporting events”. In this context, as far as votes for host cities of Olympic Games in the past are concerned, the IOC took immediate action,” declared the IOC Executive Board.  

IOC President, Thomas Bach said that the organisation was waiting to be fully informed before it acts on Nuzman.

“The IOC is very committed to the integrity of our organization. This is why we are taking this seriously and we are watching it closely,” Bach said.

“The IOC will take all appropriate measures and sanctions where evidence is provided,” he added.

Moreover, Bach claimed that there is “no collective responsibility” concerning the allegations of vote-buying, and that the credibility issues currently facing the IOC are the fault of individual members and not the governing body itself.

“There is no collective responsibility whatsoever on the IOC. There are crystal clear rules on granting the Olympic Games. Those who have been violating these rules will be sanctioned when we have the evidence,” Bach explained.

“What can be expected from an organisation is to have the rules and necessary instruments to address these issues,” he added. “No organisation is immune to credibility issues so we have to face this reality and this is what we have done to undertake the reforms and to provide ourselves with the instruments to tackle these challenges.”

The span of corruption allegations

Extensive as it is, the corruption scandal surrounding Rio’s bid for the Games is however, not the only scandal to have tainted the 2016 Olympics.

Former Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) President, Patrick Hickey was arrested on ticketing allegations during the 2016 Games in Rio. The ticket scandal reportedly involved the reselling of tickets earmarked for the Irish Olympic Committee well above face value. 

Hickey’s arrest was linked to that of Kevin James Mallon, director of THG Sports, former Authorized Ticket Reseller for Ireland. At the time of his arrest, Mallon was allegedly in possession of around 1000 Olympic Games tickets, which the police suspected were to be sold at $7,800 each. Hickey has currently suspended himself from all IOC positions, as he seeks to clear his name following his arrest in Brazil last year.

A court in Rio de Janeiro has set the date for the start of Hickey’s trial to begin on November 29 of this year, writes the Irish Times. The Irishman faces charges of money-laundering, theft, tax evasion, and criminal association.

Hickey was given permission by Brazilian authorities to return to Ireland last Christmas against payment of a bail bond of €400,000. Marcos Kac, lead prosecutor, said that the bond would be retained locally if Hickey does not return to Brazil for his trial.

Meanwhile, the counts of corruption allegations stretch beyond those made against members of the IOC.

  • In August, Alexandre Pinto, who oversaw the construction of the transit system and the cleaning of polluted waters in Rio de Janeiro, faces allegations of accepting at least BRL 15 million ($4.8 million) in bribes related to Olympic contracts.
  • In April, Eduadro Paes, former Mayor of Rio de Janeiro, has allegedly received millions in bribes from construction company Odebrecht in connection with Olympic and Paralympic contracts.
  • In March, Luiz Carlos Velloso, former Undersecretary of Transportation for the State Government of Rio de Janeiro, and Heitor Lopes de Souza, a director for subway operator Riotrilhos were targeted by a federal investigation. Velloso and Souza were both charged with taking bribes and money laundering tied to contracts for the subway line.

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