A Brazilian judge said he was freezing the assets of Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes on Friday for allegedly failing to charge the appropriate taxes to the developer of the Olympic Games golf course.
“The mayor will appeal the decision to freeze his assets” announced by a Rio de Janeiro state judge, Paes’ office said in a statement.
Just four months after the Olympics, the new course is verging on becoming a white elephant with few players, a mostly unfurnished clubhouse, and little money to run what was to be Rio’s first public course.
The Brazilian Golf Confederation has said it needs about $80,000 monthly to maintain the course in a country where few play the game.
To finance building the course, Paes and the city worked out a deal for billionaire developer Pasquale Mauro to spend about $20 million to construct it. In exchange, the developer won the right to build luxury marble and glass high-rise apartments around the layout.
Paes’ office disputed the prosecutor’s allegations, and said the mayor assessed the developer the disputed taxes, which the city hall said was 3.365 million Brazilian reals ($1 million).
Paes leaves office at the end of the year after serving his term limit. He has a one-year appointment at Columbia University in New York to teach at its School of International and Public Affairs.
In a statement to The Associated Press, Columbia said “a private foundation funded a Columbia residency for a mayor from Brazil. Several candidates were considered and Mayor Paes was selected.”
Paes said on Friday he “repudiates the prosecution’s insinuation that going to the United States in 2017 would represent a way of not fulfilling responsibilities” as mayor.
Paes was lauded by the IOC for helping to pull off Rio’s troubled games, which were marked by empty seats, organization glitches, and cash-flow problems that threatened the Paralympic Games.
International Olympic Committee officials this week called Rio the “most perfect, imperfect games.”
The course designed by American Gil Hanse has been steeped in controversy since the start.
Construction of the course was slow getting started, took three years to complete, and was carved out of a nature reserve, which prompted environmental lawsuits and land ownership disputes.
Paes has argued repeatedly that the course improved the land, some of which had been used as a sand quarry. Carlos Nuzman, who headed Rio’s Olympics, called the course “a big legacy.”
Paes repeatedly contradicted that, saying he would never have built a golf course in Rio were it not for the Olympics.
“There are some things you need to do to deliver the Olympics,” Paes said a year ago as the course was unveiled.
The golf course followed the pattern of some other Olympic projects in Rio, in which real estate interests moved in to cover some expenses, in exchange for post-games benefits.
Brazil spent $10-12 billion in public and private money readying Rio for the games.
Apart from that, organizers had a $2.8 billion operating budget to cover expenses of running the games themselves. This came as the country was battling its deepest recession in decades.