Pele denies knowledge of alleged Rio Olympics vote rigging

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Rio de Janeiro, June 6 (IANS) Brazil football great Pele has denied knowledge of a cash-for-votes scheme allegedly used by Brazilian officials to secure Rio de Janeiro’s hosting rights for the 2016 Olympic Games.

The 77-year-old testified before a judge in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday, having been cited as a defence witness for former Brazilian Olympic Committee president Carlos Nuzman, reports Xinhua news agency.

“If there was any conversation about (bribes), I was not privy to it,” Pele said via a video conference call.

Nuzman is one of six people accused of participating in an operation in which $2 million were allegedly paid to African officials in exchange for their vote for Rio’s candidacy.

Pele, the only player in history to have won three World Cups, was part of a Brazilian delegation that travelled to Copenhagen to attend the vote on October 2009.

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He said his presence was requested by Nuzman and then Rio de Janeiro governor Sergio Cabral to boost Rio’s chances of a successful bid.

“I never had any closer contact with them or their families,” Pele said.

Pele said that during the trip he met then International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Lamine Diack, whose son Papa Massata Diack is among those accused of receiving bribes. But he denied that their conversations involved any illicit payments.

“I remember that he was from Senegal and that he was passionate about Brazil, football and Pele,” said the former Santos player, referring to himself in the third person.

Former Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva also testified from his jail cell in Curitiba, where he is serving a 12-year prison sentence in a separate corruption case. Lula was also among the Brazilian officials who travelled to Copenhagen.

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“I never heard of any illegal negotiation and I regret that a complaint has been filed eight years later,” Lula, who was Brazil’s president from 2003 to 2010, said during the hearing.

–IANS

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