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Former Brazilian President and Pele deny roles in Rio 2016 corruption

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and football legend Pele have denied involvement in, or knowledge of, a corruption scheme that involved vote buying to secure the 2016 summer Olympic and Paralympic Games for Rio de Janeiro.

Both Lula (right), who in April commenced a 12-year jail term for a separate corruption case, and Pele (left) are not defendants in the current criminal action taking place in Brazil, but the two men were part of the Rio bid team that travelled to Copenhagen in 2009, when the city secured the Games.

Lula testified from his prison cell in Curitiba having been called as a defence witness by former Rio de Janeiro Governor Sérgio Cabral. Authorities in Rio are probing what they claim is an international corruption scheme aimed at buying votes to secure the 2016 Games.

Last year, police raided the home of former Brazilian Olympic Committee (COB) president, and Rio 2016 figurehead, Carlos Nuzman. Nuzman and several others in Brazil and France were arrested as part of the Operation Unfair Play probe. Cabral, already jailed in a separate corruption case, is also being investigated, along with four other officials.

Brazilian and French authorities have alleged that Nuzman helped divert $2m (€1.67m) to Papa Massata Diack, a former marketing consultant for the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), in a bid to win votes for Rio’s bid for the 2016 Games. Prosecutors have said that at least another $500,000 was paid to members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in the build-up to the 2009 vote.

Testifying yesterday (Tuesday), Lula said, according to Brazilian newspaper Folha de S.Paulo: “I do not know the criteria of the citizen who says it was cheating (the award of the Games to Rio de Janeiro). This citizen knows nothing. The environment in the IOC was very serious.”

Before being cut off by Judge Marcelo Breitas, Lula said: “I regret that a complaint of corruption… comes eight years later. I do not know who made the complaint, I do not want to know. We are living in a period of denunciation.”

77-year-old Pele also denied knowledge of a cash-for-votes scheme, having been called as a defence witness for Nuzman. “If there was any conversation about (bribes), I was not privy to it,” Pele said, according to Xinhua news agency.

Pele admitted that he met disgraced former IOC member and IAAF president Lamine Diack, father of Papa Massata Diack, during the Copenhagen trip, but denied their conversation involved talk of illegal payments. “I remember that he was from Senegal and that he was passionate about Brazil, football and Pele,” he said.