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Olympic Official Who Delivered Rio Games Sentenced to 30 Years for Bribery

The man who brought the Olympics to South America for the first time has been sentenced to more than 30 years in prison after a judge in Brazil ruled that Rio de Janeiro’s success at securing the 2016 Summer Games was built on a bribery scheme.

The verdict against Carlos Arthur Nuzman, the former longtime head of Brazil’s Olympic committee and once a towering figure within the International Olympic Committee, came four years after he was detained by the authorities as part of a joint investigation into sports corruption by investigators in Brazil and France.

Nuzman, who also served as the head of the Rio 2016 organizing committee, was found guilty of corruption, criminal organization, money laundering and tax evasion in a ruling published late Thursday. Law enforcement officials who conducted a raid on his home in 2017 found about $155,000 in cash and a key to a vault in Switzerland in which 16 gold bars were discovered.

Nuzman, 79, will appeal the verdict, his lawyer said. He will not have to serve his sentence until those appeals are exhausted.

The verdict, laid out in a 50-page written judgment by Marcelo Bretas, a judge with experience in presiding over high-profile corruption cases, singled out Nuzman as the linchpin of a scheme to buy the votes of sports officials in an effort to secure the hosting rights to the Games. The former Rio de Janeiro governor Sérgio Cabral, already serving a 200-year prison sentence for a string of other corruption-related offenses, and Leonardo Gryner, a close confidante of Nuzman’s who was also the former director general of Rio 2016, also received prison terms. Arthur Soares, a Brazilian businessman known as King Arthur, who was said to have provided $2 million in bribe money, was sentenced as well.

“The culpability is high, as Carlos Arthur Nuzman was the main creator of the illicit scheme examined in these records and thus acted taking advantage of the high position achieved over 22 years as President of the Brazilian Olympic Committee, which is why his conduct must be valued more rigorously than that of any corrupt person,” Bretas wrote in his ruling.

The court’s verdict is the latest reminder of how the Rio Olympics, billed as a coming-out party for South America’s most populous nation, instead ended up as a stain on Brazil’s reputation. The multibillion-dollar project was mired in allegations of graft that implicated some of Brazil’s biggest construction companies even before the revelation that Brazil may have only secured hosting rights thanks to vote-buying behind the scenes.

Nuzman with the International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, in Rio de Janeiro in 2014.Credit…Felipe Dana/Associated Press

“The convict dedicated his public career to making Rio de Janeiro the host city for the Olympics,” the judgment said. “However, despite such social responsibility, he chose to act against morality and public property.”

The revelations in the case also cast the International Olympic Committee in an unflattering light. Throughout the buildup to the Games, it issued statements in support of Rio organizers amid growing news media scrutiny about how the Games were being financed. It also ignored whistle-blower testimony, some of it dating back more than a decade, that Nuzman’s conduct while he was the head of the Brazilian Olympic committee deserved to be investigated.

“I’m so emotional today,” Eric Maleson, a former member of the committee who had written several times to the current I.O.C. president, Thomas Bach, and his predecessor, Jacques Rogge, with details of wrongdoing by Nuzman. “I tried everything I could to persuade the highest ranks of the I.O.C. to intervene before this situation got out of control. But they never looked for me, they never called me.

“Perhaps now they will call me and invite me as someone who did the right thing.”

Maleson was among the witnesses in Nuzman’s trial, which also featured the introduction of emails between Gryner and Papa Massata Diack, a former I.O.C. official convicted of corruption in France, discussing bank transfers in October 2009. Gryner and Diack, the son of a former head of track and field’s global governing body, swapped emails just after Rio de Janeiro overcame bids from Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo to stage the 2016 Games.

Perhaps the most damaging testimony in the case came from Cabral, the former governor, who is serving what is effectively a life sentence for fraud and corruption.

Cabral told the court that the scheme to secure votes through bribery was arranged between Nuzman and Lamine Diack, a longtime Olympics power broker from Senegal and the father of Papa Massata Diack. (Lamine Diack was convicted last year by a French court of receiving bribes related to several sports schemes.)

In his testimony, Cabral supported prosecutors’ claims that Nuzman directed Soares, the businessman, about which officials to pay, a list that he said included sports legends and former gold medalists like the Ukrainian pole-vaulter Sergey Bubka and the Russian swimmer Alexander Popov. Bubka and Popov have both denied accepting bribes.

Cabral said the seeds for Rio’s victory had been planted months before the vote, when Nuzman contacted him. “Nuzman came to me and said, ‘Sérgio, I want to tell you that the I.A.A.F. president, Lamine Diack, is a person that is open to undue advantages,’” Cabral said of the meeting, using the former acronym for track’s governing body. “‘He can secure five or six votes. In exchange, he wants $1.5 million.’”

Lamine Diack, the longtime head of track and field’s governing body, after his conviction in a French court in September 2020.Credit…Mohammed Badra/EPA, via Shutterstock

The emails revealed testy exchanges over delays in payments between Rio and the younger Diack. In one message sent to a Brazilian Olympic committee official, on which Nuzman and Gryner were copied, Papa Massata Diack sought assurances that the money would be wired to bank accounts he controlled in Dakar or Moscow. The signature block in the email noted that Diack was writing from Room 2112 of the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Singapore.

Maleson, who was ousted from his role as head of Brazil’s ice sports federation after making complaints about Nuzman, also told investigators in the United States, France and Brazil about a meeting he had with a member of Rio’s bid committee before the vote. He repeated those claims in court.

He recounted how he had a chance encounter with a senior official connected with Rio’s bid in July 2009. As the men discussed the bidding cities’ chances, the official, Ruy Cezar Miranda, an aide to the city’s mayor, told him that he had just returned from what he described as a successful trip to Nigeria before making a hand gesture that to Maleson signified that a payment had been made.

The judge said he would send the results of the investigation to authorities in Senegal and France, where Papa Massata Diack and Lamine Diack live. They were among five officials sentenced to prison terms by a Paris court last year for their roles in an extortion scheme that allowed athletes caught doping to escape punishment in exchange for cash.

The younger Diack also has been linked to a series of unrelated sports corruption schemes, including one connected to the awarding of the hosting rights to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

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