Brazil’s Olympics Chief Arrested for $2 Million Bribe to Secure Rio Games

Carlos Nuzman, president of the Rio 2016 Organising Committee
AFP/Yasuyoshi Chiba

Brazil arrested the head of the Brazilian Olympic Committee (COB), Carlos Arthur Nuzman, and his right-hand man Leonardo Gryner on Thursday after a corruption probe found evidence the COB paid $2 million to secure a vote in favor of Rio de Janeiro hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics.

The Rio Games left the city, and struggling state government, in financial freefall. During the game, police officers protested that they did not have money to buy toilet paper for police station bathrooms, teachers protested that schools remained grossly underfunded, and the governor of Rio de Janeiro demanded the Brasilia send him a $900 million bailout.

Brazil secured hosting duties for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics under the presidency of leftist Dilma Rousseff, who was impeached and ultimately removed from power for misrepresenting the state of the Brazilian economy to potential foreign investors.

An investigation into how Brazil secured the Olympic hosting duties, branded Unfair Play, found evidence that Nuzman and Gryner conspired to pay for a vote in Brazil’s favor on the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

According to the Brazilian newspaper O Globo, prosecutors allege that Nuzman secured $2 million from Arthur Cesar de Menezes Soares Filho, a Miami businessman, to be paid to Papa Massata Diack, the son of Senegalese IOC member Lamine Diack. The elder Diack later vote for Brazil to host the Summer Olympics. Lamine Diack was then the head of the International Association of Athletics Federations.

Prosecutors had already accused Nuzman of having “directly participated in the buying of votes from IOC members in the election at the 2016 Olympic Games headquarters” in September. Now, however, O Globo reports that prosecutors can cite several emails between Nuzman, Gryner, and the younger Diack that appear to confirm their agreement to trade the money for the vote.

When his name first surfaced in the investigation in September, Papa Massata Diack rejected all allegations, calling any claims of corruption against him “the biggest lie in the history of world sport.”

“Sometimes I accompanied my father to assist in his personal work but to say I organised votes … my job was to help the IAAF identify countries to organise sporting events,” he asserted.

The elder Diack has admitted to soliciting bribes from Russia, but not Brazil.

In addition to the current evidence against him, Nuzman also appeared to respond to the September allegations with bizarre financial behavior, namely amending his income tax information to suddenly reveal a 457 percent growth in his total assets, including the possession of 16 kilogram-sized gold bars stored in a lockbox in Switzerland. Brazil’s Public Ministry notes that Nuzman’s equity suddenly doubled and much of his newly declared cash trove was being held in the British Virgin Islands, “a known tax haven.”

O Globo also reveals another suspicious event: a lavish party thrown in Paris in 2009 and attended by COB leadership before Rio’s victory, suggesting Nuzman and Gryner already knew Rio de Janeiro would win hosting duties because they had paid Diack to vote for them. It is unclear whether prosecutors will use this evidence against those arrested in court.

The arrests leave the aftermath of the Rio Olympics in yet more disarray. The Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo notes that Nuzman was reportedly planning to demand the IOC “provide him with a financial bailout” given the exponential debt left behind by the event. Folha warns that what remains may become an “unpayable” debt.

Thousands of Brazilians protested the Olympic Games, complaining that the millions spent on state-of-the-art sporting facilities should be going into infrastructure, education, and law enforcement. Police stood at Rio de Janeiro’s airport holding large signs reading “Welcome to Hell” and warning that police did not have the resources to adequately protect tourists from crime.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.