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In Rio, Investigators Open Probe Over Olympic Construction Projects

15 Jun, 2016

By: Tracey Schelmetic

While the Summer Olympic Games in Rio haven’t happened yet – opening ceremonies are slated for August 6 – allegations of corruption are already turning into court cases. Federal investigators in Brazil have reported expanded a probe into whether construction projects of venues for the Summer Olympics and Paralympics have been rife with corruption.

Initially, federal investigators’ probe focused on transport and infrastructural projects associated with the games, but is now set to include venues and services which have been financed with government funds, according to Inside the Games’ Michael Pavitt. At the core of corruption allegations is Brazil’s state-run oil company, Petrobras, which is facing wider corruption allegations that went all the way up to Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, who was impeached last month by political enemies who feared a federal investigation, while 21 members of her cabinet were also dismissed.

Members of Brazil’s 600-member congress are also accused of collaborating with Petrobras officials and contractors to extract bribes, according to the Financial Times. Rousseff, who is now suspended for 180 days, is not expected to attend the games in August. She has been accused of "fiscal irresponsibility" for allegedly trying to manipulate budget gaps during the 2014 election, though she denies the claims.

Several construction companies paid bribes for inflated contracts with Petrobras, according to insiders, with leading figures across Brazilian society and politics having supposedly profited. The corruption is said to be widespread.

"It's not just the physical works we're looking at,” federal prosecutor Leandro Mitidieri told Reuters. “It is contracts for services, security, everything that used federal funds.”

One of those services being investigated is the clean-up of Guanabara Bay, which will be used during the Olympic and Paralympic Games for sailing events. Funding for the work appears to have disappeared. When Rio was awarded the Summer Olympic Games in 2009, part of the deal was a clean-up of the polluted bay. While World Sailing stated in March that it was satisfied with the clean-up job, several illnesses were reported from exposure to the water after the Rio 2016 test event last August.

Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes has repeatedly insisted that the Olympics is free of any corruption. IOC President Thomas Bach has said the Olympic Games will go forward as planned.

"There is strong support for the Olympic Games in Brazil and we look forward to working with the new government to deliver successful Games in Rio this summer,” he said.

Political corruption isn’t the only problem plaguing the Rio Games. A number of hotel and venue projects remain incomplete. At least three hotel projects and completion of the indoor cycling track have been delayed. In addition, funds are lacking to complete a crucial subway system – although officials say talks are ongoing.

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