Police briefly detained one of Brazilian soccer’s most powerful men on Monday after searching his home in what they said was an investigation into criminal organizations practicing extortion, corruption and financial crimes.
Marco Polo del Nero, vice president of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) and a member of FIFA’s executive committee, was questioned as part of a massive police operation in which authorities served 87 search warrants and made 33 arrests in six states.
Police did not say if Del Nero would be the subject of any criminal charges and declined to provide any details on his questioning, but the pre-dawn raid of his home in Sao Paulo was an embarrassment to senior FIFA officials, many of whom are in Brazil this week for a Soccerex trade fair and Saturday’s Confederations Cup draw.
The incident also cast an unwanted spotlight on the CBF, which under its previous president Ricardo Teixeira was involved in several corruption and bribery scandals. Teixeira resigned in March after more than two decades on the job, citing health issues.
Del Nero, a 71-year-old lawyer who represents South America on FIFA’s powerful executive committee, denied any wrongdoing. In an interview with the local news agency UOL Esporte, he said he was questioned for about 20 minutes about personal affairs that are unrelated to his soccer activities.
“I’m totally at ease. This is a personal matter that I cannot discuss publicly ... It will not affect anything,” Del Nero said in the interview.
Del Nero also heads the Paulista Football Federation, the organization that oversees professional soccer in Sao Paulo State, and is a member of the organizing committee for the 2014 World Cup.
The Paulista Football Federation issued a short statement saying the investigation was unrelated to Del Nero’s activities as its president.
Authorities said the raids were aimed at breaking up two gangs they believe were using information uncovered in police investigations to blackmail politicians, judges and other important figures.
The investigation, which began in 2009, uncovered a “major network of espionage made up of people selling privileged information,” federal police said in a statement.
Asked about the Del Nero case, FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke cautioned against jumping to conclusions, but he also suggested that FIFA could conduct its own inquiry.
“We have an ethics committee with the freedom to investigate any member of FIFA, but we can’t just accuse people,” Valcke told reporters in Rio de Janeiro. “We are all innocent until proven guilty.”
Meanwhile, with the country expected to receive about 500,000 visitors for the World Cup, it was told to start worrying about the fans by FIFA.
Valcke said everything would be in order for the teams, but that the supporters should not be overlooked, especially when it came to getting around the vast country.
“It’s not about the officials, the teams or FIFA itself. We have charter flights and accommodation for them, we have to think about the fans, we need these fans supporting their teams,” Valcke said.
Brazil’s domestic air network is already overstretched and many trips involve several stops and long detours through Sao Paulo. Road journeys between different regions can take several days over pot-holed highways.
In some cases, Valcke said fans would have to be flown in and out of venues on the same day because of a lack of hotel rooms.
“We have one city which I will not name where there are 17,000 rooms and 45,000 seats in the stadium, so the only other solution would be to have three people in one bed, but we have now moved from talking about the problems to talking about the solutions. We are able to find and answer the problems,” he said.
Valcke caused an outcry in Brazil earlier this year when he criticized the slow pace of preparations and said the country needed “a kick up the backside.”
He later apologized and the two sides have ironed out their differences.
“It is a question of maturity, age, understanding,” Valcke said. “We found a way to work together and that is the most important thing. We are not trying any more to fight, it is pointless. A couple can get a divorce, but in a World Cup partnership you cannot divorce. Sometimes you lose control, and you say things and get nervous, and then you learn that patience is a good thing to have. At the moment, we are working well.”