Brazilians step up inquiries

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The Independent Online

The Brazilian Congress is pushing ahead with an inquiry into the dealings of the Brazilian Football Confederation, despite warnings from the Fifa president Sepp Blatter that it could cost Brazil a spot in the 2002 World Cup.

The Brazilian Congress is pushing ahead with an inquiry into the dealings of the Brazilian Football Confederation, despite warnings from the Fifa president Sepp Blatter that it could cost Brazil a spot in the 2002 World Cup.

Senator Alvaro Dias, who will preside over the Senate's investigation, said Brazilians were puzzled by Blatter's remarks in a recent interview with the news magazine Epoca.

"We don't understand the president of Fifa [world football's ruling body] and his opposition to the investigation," Dias said yesterday "We invite him to explain to us what is being done wrong and why Brazil runs the risk of sanctions."

Earlier this week, Senate President Antonio Carlos Magalhaes said that, if Brazil missed the next World Cup in Japan and South Korea because of the probe, it was an acceptable price to pay for cleaning up Brazilian football.

The Confederation President, Ricardo Teixeira, lobbied unsuccessfully to quash the investigation, then pushed to pack the panels in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies with friendly legislators, many with close ties to football clubs.

Social Security Minister Waldeck Ornelas told congressmen yesterday that football clubs had evaded more than 218 million reals (£69.2m) in social security taxes. Ornelas said clubs deducted the tax from players' pay packets but did not pass it on to the federal government.

The biggest offenders are apparently Rio's Flamengo, Brazil's most popular club, who Ornelas said owed more than 21.5 million reals in back social security taxes.

Congressmen have summoned top players and sports officials for questioning about alleged irregularities. The list includes Pele, Romario, Ronaldo, Edmundo, Roberto Carlos, the former national team coach Wanderley Luxemburgo and the former Fifa president João Havelange.

Investigators have requested access to the Confederation's bank records, which could reveal details of transfers of players abroad as well as the confederation's 10-year contract with Nike, worth a reported $400m.

Congressman Aldo Rebelo said the contract unfairly favoured Nike, including a clause that prohibits the confederation from legally challenging the giant sportswear manufacturer in Brazil.

During the 1998 World Cup, some Brazilian players grumbled that they had to take time off from training to attend public relations promotions for Nike.

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