By Pedro Fonseca
Rio de Janeiro (Reuters) – Organizers of the 2016 Rio Olympics denied on Friday that vote buying helped to secure the Games after a French newspaper reported that a Brazilian businessman made payments to the son of an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member before the vote.
Le Monde said a company linked to Brazilian businessman Arthur Cesar de Menezes Soares Filho paid $1.5 million to Papa Massata Diack, son of Lamine Diack who was then International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) president, three days before the 2009 decision on the host city for the 2016 Games.
Rio lost the first vote to Madrid but bounced back to win the nomination on a third ballot, by 66 votes to 32.
A representative for Menezes Soares Filho could not be immediately reached for comment.
Le Monde also reported that Papa Massata Diack had paid almost $300,000 to prominent IOC member Frankie Fredericks, who said he has done nothing wrong and that the money was for “services rendered” to promote the sport in Africa.
The IOC said on Friday that its commission has started investigating the allegations.
“The IOC remains fully committed to clarifying this situation, working in co-operation with the (French) prosecutor,” the organization said in a statement.
Rio 2016 Games spokesman Mario Andrada told Reuters: “The vote was clean. Rio’s victory was very clear. The French investigation concerns six members of the IOC and six members would not have changed the result at all.”
Le Monde said that three days before the October 2009 vote in Copenhagen, Pamodzi Consulting, a company owned by Papa Massata Diack, received the $1.5 million payment from Matlock Capital Group, a holding company based in the British Virgin Islands.
Diack, whose father Lamine is awaiting trial in France on aggravated money laundering and corruption charges, also received $500,000 from Matlock Capital Group through a Russian bank account, Le Monde added.
Papa Massata Diack was banned for life from athletics last year over multi-million dollar corruption claims.
He was not immediately available to comment but has previously denied any involvement in bribery or corruption and says his father Lamine is also innocent.
Le Monde said Papa Massata Diack transferred almost $300,000 to a company linked to Fredericks, a multiple Olympic and world medalist over 100 and 200 meters.
Namibian Fredericks, now a member of the IAAF’s ruling Council who also heads the IOC evaluation commission for the 2024 Olympic bids, told Le Monde the money was paid for work he did to promote athletics in Africa between 2007 and 2011.
“The payment has nothing whatsoever to do with the Olympic Games and I was not an IAAF board member at the time and did not breach any regulation or rule of ethics,” he told Le Monde.
The IOC said: “As far as Mr Fredericks is concerned, he informed the IOC and explained the situation and emphasized his innocence immediately upon being contacted by the journalist.
“The IOC trusts that Mr Fredericks will bring all the elements to prove his innocence against these allegations made by Le Monde.”
The IAAF said it was continuing to work with the French investigation on its ongoing criminal investigation.
“We can confirm that Frank Fredericks has been in contact with the IAAF Ethics Board this week and provided information relating to the substance of the press coverage today,” the ruling body said in a statement.
“He has indicated he is happy to assist the Ethics Board with any questions it may have,” the IAAF added.
Le Monde said Menezes Soares Filho is a close associate of Sergio Cabral, who was Rio governor at the time of the Olympic bid but resigned in April 2014 in the face of anti-corruption protests.
Cabral faces trial on corruption and money laundering charges as part of the sweeping Operation Car Wash investigation into corruption and political kickbacks focused on state oil company Petrobras.
Cabral’s lawyers have denied he has committed any crimes.
Andrada said the ongoing investigation by French authorities was focused on Lamine Diack and did not have any connection with Rio’s candidacy.
“The Rio Games have already taken place and filled Brazilians with pride, and only when the French have concluded their investigation will it be possible to say who are the beneficiaries of this scheme,” he said.
“Already, however, it’s clear that the Rio Games have nothing to do with this.”
Rio became the first South American city to host the Olympic games in August.
Despite concerns over the city’s ability to host the Games during Brazil’s worst recession, the Olympics were held without any major problems. However, many of the venues and installations have since been abandoned.
(Additonal reporting by Karolos Grohmann and Andrew Downie, editing by Mitch Phillips/Dan Flynn/Ken Ferris)