Rio city council commission formed to probe Olympic projects
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Rio de Janeiro's city council set up a commission on Tuesday to investigate whether the city's Olympic projects were tarnished by corruption.
The five-member commission will have up to six months to examine contracts and other documents related to the stadiums, highways and other projects tied to the Aug. 5-21 games. The group is also expected to hear expert testimony on whether the structures are technically sound, members said.
The councilman behind the initiative, Jefferson Moura, said it had grown out of the so-called ''Car Wash'' probe into a massive corruption scheme centered around Brazil's state-run Petrobras oil company.
Under the scheme, top construction firms paid billions of dollars in bribes for inflated contracts with the oil giant, with some of the money ending up in the coffers of parties from across the political spectrum.
Brazil is spending around $10 billion, in public and private money, to prepare South America's first Olympics, with many of the same construction companies ensnared in the Petrobras scheme also behind Rio's Olympic projects.
At Tuesday's session - which coincided with the Olympic flame's arrival in Brazil - the commission members pledged to work swiftly and impartially, saying they owed it to taxpayers.
Moura initially hailed the commission's formation as ''a victory of transparency.''
However, he soon became pessimistic about its chances of success after Tuesday's session saw the other four councilmen on the commission - all members of Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes' PMDB party - vote as a block to award its two top roles to party members, and not to Moura.
''I think that the commission got off to a terrible start,'' said Moura, adding that the choice of its president and scribe suggested the group's investigations would ultimately ''lead to nothing.''
Paes, the most visible face behind the Olympics, has repeatedly stated that Rio's Olympic projects are a model of transparency, insisting they're free from the kind of graft that tarnished Petrobras-related projects.
The commission's newly-appointed president, Atila Nunes, echoed Paes' sentiments, saying the international scrutiny of the Olympic projects helped guarantee they are free from corruption.
''We are confident to continue, now with the tools that the committee will provide, the supervision and control of these constructions,'' he said.
The establishment of the commission comes on the heels of the deadly collapse of part of a three-month-old elevated bike path that had been hailed as among Rio's top Olympic legacy projects.
Two people were killed when an approximately 35-meter-long stretch of the bike path gave way on April 21, apparently after it was struck by a powerful wave.
Critics have suggested the accident may have resulted from poor planning or shoddy construction - both perennial problems in Brazil.
The project, initially budgeted at 35 million Brazilian reais ($10 million), ballooned by around 30 percent to 45 million Brazilian reais ($12.5 million) and was delivered six months late, according to the Rio's O Globo newspaper.
The commission members said they would devote special scrutiny to the bike path project.