A former governor of Rio de Janeiro has made startling new allegations about the extent of a $2 million scheme to bribe sports officials in what became a successful effort to bring the Olympics to South America for the first time.
The ex-governor, Sergio Cabral, who is serving a 200-year prison sentence for fraud and corruption, testified on Thursday that as many as nine International Olympic Committee members were paid off to bring the Summer Games to Rio in 2016.
He said the plan was devised by two powerful figures in the world of international sports: Carlos Arthur Nuzman, the former head of the Brazil Olympic Committee, and Lamine Diack, who for years headed the global regulatory body for track and field.
Nuzman was charged in connection with the bribery scandal in Brazil in October, while Diack, who was arrested in France in 2015, is expected to go on trial there early next year.
The International Olympic Committee said in a statement on Friday that it would follow up the accusations made by Cabral, adding that it was committed to addressing the issues he had raised while stating that it had “turned the page with regard to good governance.”
In his testimony, Cabral supported prosecutors’ claim that money for the bribes was provided by Arthur César de Menezes Soares Filho, a Brazilian businessman known as King Arthur, who was arrested and subsequently released nearly two years ago and remains at large.
Cabral named two sports legends, the Ukrainian pole-vaulter Sergey Bubka and the Russian swimmer Aleksandr Popov, who won nine Olympic medals, as among those who received bribes. Both denied it on Friday.
The French authorities, who have worked with their counterparts in Brazil, have already charged the former Namibian track superstar Frankie Fredericks in connection with the scheme, as part of a wider investigation into Diack and his son Papa Massata Diack, who was once a marketing agent for track’s governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations, under his father.
Popov said on Friday that he had “never had contact” with the people mentioned in accounts of the bribery and that he was considering taking legal action. He also said that he had not voted for Rio to be awarded the Games.
“I have to admit that I am extremely surprised at the appearance of such information with the illegal use of my name,” Popov said in a text message.
Bubka said on Twitter that he rejected “all the false claims made by the former Rio State governor who is currently serving a long prison sentence for corruption.” The Diacks and Fredericks have also denied the charges against them.
The surprising decision to award Rio the Games came at a vote in October 2009, where rival bids from Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo were defeated. Cabral said the seeds for Rio’s victory had been planted a few months earlier, in August, when Nuzman contacted him.
“Nuzman came to me and said, ‘Sergio, I want to tell you that the I.A.A.F. president, Lamine Diack, is a person that is open to undue advantages. He can secure five or six votes. In exchange, he wants $1.5 million,’ ” Cabral said of the meeting.
Cabral said he contacted Leonardo Gryner, an executive who would later play a key role in the Rio Games, to deal with the younger Diack, who has been implicated in bribery and corruption schemes across multiple continents, to facilitate the payments.
Brazilian prosecutors in 2017 revealed emails between the two men that discussed payments before the vote. Gryner, who was arrested in Brazil alongside Nuzman in 2017 on corruption, money laundering and criminal organization charges, was held in prison for a short time before being released.
In his testimony, Cabral said he held another meeting with Nuzman, at which he was told that a further $500,000 could secure three additional votes.
“Nuzman told me Papa Diack said he could get more votes. He said we could reach nine votes in total, but he needed another $500,000. I told him it would be done,” Cabral said, in testimony that was first reported by the Brazilian news media and later confirmed by his attorney.
Nuzman’s lawyer, Joao Francisco Neto, told reporters that Cabral had provided no evidence to support his claims and suggested that he was hoping to reduce his 200-year sentence. “Even if that had happened, corporate corruption is not a crime in Brazil,” Francisco Neto said.
Cabral’s lawyer, Marcio Delambert, said in an email that his client was being truthful and that the other defendants were emphasizing his 200-year sentence in an effort to discredit him.
In his testimony, Cabral also said that a former Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was convicted of corruption and money laundering in 2017, and Eduardo Paes, who was mayor during the bid for the Games, had been aware of the bribery scheme but had not participated directly.
In comments to the Brazilian news media, a representative of da Silva, widely known as Lula, denied the claim. Paes told the Folha do São Paulo newspaper that he had been unaware of any bribery scheme and had never spoken to Cabral about the matter.
Cabral, who in a previous deposition had denied involvement in the bribery plot, said the nine votes were crucial to securing Rio’s passage through the first round of voting, in which it received 25 votes, just 10 more than Chicago. It maintained a big lead in the following rounds, eventually defeating Madrid by 66 to 32 in a final vote.
“It was essential to have the guarantee of these votes,” Cabral said.
The accusations heaped more embarrassment on the International Olympic Committee, which has overhauled the way it picks host cities in the aftermath of multiple bribery allegations, as well as a series of referendums that forced several candidate cities to withdraw their bids.
There were just two bids for the 2026 Winter Olympics, which were awarded jointly to the Italian cities of Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo last month.
Investigators in France have accused the Diacks of corrupting the bidding process for the 2020 Olympics, which will be held in Tokyo, and several track-and-field world championships, and of plotting to cover up failed drug tests.
“This is the biggest lie in the world of sports,” Papa Diack said during a 2017 interview in his native Senegal, where he has been for three years since an arrest warrant was issued for him in France.
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