Rio’s ex-mayor denies Olympics corruption

Rio’s ex-mayor denies Olympics corruption

Rio de Janeiro’s ex-mayor Eduardo Paes has denied allegations that he took millions of dollars in bribes from construction giant Odebrecht in the run-up to last year’s Olympic Games.

Paes oversaw preparations for the hosting of South America’s first Olympics and stepped down at the end of his term shortly afterward.

Brazil’s Supreme Court revealed late Tuesday that Paes is among about 100 other politicians facing probes into alleged involvement in a vast embezzlement and bribery scheme in which Odebrecht was a central player.

In a statement, Paes responded that he “strenuously denies having accepted bribes to work in the interest of Odebrecht.”

The allegations against Paes and the other politicians targeted in the wave of new probes come from testimony given in plea bargains by 77 former Odebrecht executives.

According to the allegations, Paes took “at least 15 million reais” from Odebrecht during his 2012 reelection campaign, when Rio was busily building the stadiums and other major infrastructure for the Olympics. That was about $7.5 million at the time, or $5 million today.

The alleged bribes were given “to facilitate contracts related to the Olympic Games,” according to a Supreme Court document quoted by multiple reports in the Brazilian media.

Former Odebrecht executive Benedito Barbosa da Silva — who testified in return for a possible reduction in his own sentence after pleading guilty to corruption — said that Paes’s codename in the huge bribery network was “the little nervous one.”

About a third of the alleged payments were made in a foreign account, he testified.

In his denial of the allegations, the former mayor said he “had never had a foreign bank account” and that “all funds for the reelection campaign were properly declared.”

Paes won the election with 65 percent of the vote.

Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction contractor with major projects around the world, took part in refurbishing the Maracana football stadium ahead of the 2014 World Cup and the Olympic Park and athletes’ village, among other facilities, ahead of the Games.

The park and nearby athlete’s village are among the facilities that have been branded white elephants in the wake of the Games, with few users and uncertain futures.