Eric Maleson was walking down a busy street in downtown Rio de Janeiro in July 2009 when he encountered a senior official connected with the city’s bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.
After exchanging the usual pleasantries, Maleson, then a member of Brazil’s Olympic Committee, knew that the official, Ruy Cezar Miranda, an aide to the city’s mayor, had just returned from a trip to Nigeria for a meeting with a group of African members of the International Olympic Committee.
“So how did it go?” Maleson said he asked Miranda. “It was a great success,” was the reply from a beaming Miranda, who made a gesture with his hand that, Maleson said, was meant to signal that a payment had been made to secure what could be crucial votes to select the host of the 2016 Summer Games.
Maleson related the story to a judge on Wednesday as part of his testimony in the corruption trial of Carlos Arthur Nuzman, the former head of Brazil’s national Olympic committee and president of the 2016 Olympic organizing committee.
“I have no doubt he wanted me to know the Rio bid could take care of business,” Maleson said in an interview Thursday, a day after giving testimony via video from his home in Boston to the judge hearing the Nuzman trial.
Miranda could not be reached for comment.
Nuzman’s downfall followed a joint investigation by prosecutors in Brazil and France. They allege the Rio election was just one of several major hosting decisions that had been corrupted by a culture of kickbacks and bribery dating back several years, including suspicious payments linked to the host city for the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tokyo.
Maleson’s day in court had been a long time coming. The former bobsledder, who founded and led Brazil’s ice sports federation for more than a decade until his ouster in 2013, had for years complained about corrupt practices in Brazil. He sent emails and letters to the IOC, even copying some to the organization’s president, Thomas Bach, and his predecessor, Jacques Rogge.
While he was largely ignored by sports officials, investigators took a keener interest. U.S. authorities arranged for Maleson to be interviewed by a French prosecutor investigating the former president of track and field’s governing body, Lamine Diack of Senegal. Diack, now in his 80s, remains under arrest in France. He and his son, a sports marketing consultant, are the subjects of an Interpol arrest warrant.
Those interviews with Maleson helped French authorities understand payments that are now believed to be part of the bribery scheme.
In separate evidence, details of which were published this month, Carlos Emanuel Miranda, a former lieutenant to the former governor of Rio de Janeiro, Sérgio Cabral, told prosecutors as part of a plea-bargain agreement that payments were made to African sporting officials in relation to the 2016 bid in which Rio overcame Madrid, Tokyo and Chicago. Cabral is in prison for corruption and money laundering.
Cabral told Miranda that four African votes were bought, according to his testimony. Nuzman is accused of conspiring with Cabral and U.S.-based Brazilian businessman Arthur Soares Filho to bribe voters. He is also accused of tax evasion, money laundering and running a criminal organization after the police found more than $150,000 in his home and linked him to a Swiss vault containing 16 gold bars.
Nuzman, who was briefly jailed and is now under house arrest, denies the charges, and his lawyer has described the plea-bargain testimony as worthless.
Maleson told the court that Nuzman and Cabral had made a pact to use the Olympics as a springboard for Cabral’s presidential ambitions. The relationship was common knowledge within the Brazilian sporting movement, Maleson said. “It was the perfect platform to give him visibility,” he added.
Revelations from the case are a continuing embarrassment for the International Olympic Committee, which has changed the bidding process for future Olympic hosts.
A recent opinion poll in Switzerland, where the town of Sion is considering a run to host the 2026 Winter Games, suggested much work needed to be done to restore credibility. Forty-seven percent of respondents said they would vote no in a crucial referendum next month on whether to formally pursue an Olympic bid; 31 percent said they had no confidence in the IOC; and another 32 percent chose not to answer.
Judge Marcelo Bretas is expected to hear testimony from IOC officials before reaching a verdict in the case against Nuzman and Leonardo Gryner, who held senior roles with the Rio 2016 organizing committee. A spokesman for the IOC said it had “cooperated from the very beginning of these investigations because we have the highest interest to get this clarified.”