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Former Rio mayor probed in Olympic-linked corruption scandal

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Former Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes, the moving force behind organizing last year’s Olympics, is being investigated for allegedly accepting at least 15 million reals ($5 million) in payments to facilitate construction projects tied to the Games.

Paes is one of dozens of top politicians implicated in a sweeping judicial corruption investigation in which construction giant Odebrecht illegally paid billions to help win contracts.

Paes’ name appears in documents published Tuesday by Brazil’s top court, and could stand trial if the country’s attorney general decides to prosecute.

In a statement Wednesday from his spokeswoman, Tereza Fayal, the former mayor strongly denied the allegations made in several plea bargains signed by former and present Odebrecht employees, calling the accusations “absurd and untruthful.”

“He vehemently denies that he has accepted bribes to facilitate, or to benefit, the interests of the Odebrecht company,” the statement said.

Paes stepped in forcefully about two years before the Olympics opened, shortly after International Olympic Committee Vice President John Coates called Rio’s preparations “the worst” he’d ever seen and woefully behind schedule.

The IOC repeatedly credited Paes with speeding up preparations and cutting through red tape.

As rumors swirled around Olympic preparations, Paes often challenged reporters to find any corruption in city-hall contracts.

Days after the trouble-plagued Olympics ended, Paes and Carlos Nuzman — an IOC member and the president of the organizing committee — were awarded the “Olympic Order” by IOC President Thomas Bach.

In a statement Wednesday to The Associated Press, the IOC said Paes should be regarded as innocent until proven otherwise.

“These are allegations which he (Paes) strenuously denies,” the IOC said.

Odebrecht was involved in building many Olympic-related projects, including several arenas at the Olympic Park in suburban Barra de Tijuca, a subway-line extension, and the renovation of Rio’s port area.

The Supreme Court documents showed Paes received more 11 million reals ($3.5 million) in local bank accounts, and the rest in off-shore accounts.

In the statement, Paes said “he’s never had off-shore accounts.”

Paes left office on Jan. 1 after a term-limited eight years. He was once viewed as a presidential candidate, hoping to use the Olympics as a springboard. He recently said he hoped to run next year for governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro.

He is referred to in the Odebrecht documents as “The Little Nervous One.”

Plea bargains also indicate that irregularities — none of them involving Paes — were seen in awarding contracts for at least three stadiums for the 2014 World Cup: Sao Paulo, Recife and Brasilia.

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Kerri Walsh Jennings pleased by result after longest break in 5 years

Kerri Walsh Jennings
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Kerri Walsh Jennings returned from her longest competition break since 2013 and, with partner Nicole Branagh, nearly beat the world’s top-ranked team.

Walsh Jennings and Branagh ultimately were eliminated in the round of 16 at the Xiamen Open in China.

“We WILL do better,” was posted on Walsh Jennings’ social media. “We actually had a great showing and learned and battled and improved – sometimes the stats don’t show everything.”

Walsh Jennings and Branagh, a pair of 39-year-old moms, played together for the first time since July 22, when Walsh Jennings’ five-times surgically repaired right shoulder popped out mid-match.

Walsh Jennings, eyeing her sixth and final Olympics in 2020, underwent a sixth shoulder surgery and an ankle surgery and did not return to training on the beach until March (her longest break between hitting a ball on sand since switching from indoor following the 2000 Olympics).

The duo won their opening Xiamen match in three sets last week, then lost a three-setter to the world’s No. 1 team in group play. Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes prevailed 21-15, 22-24, 18-16 en route to the tournament title.

After Walsh Jennings and Branagh swept American qualifiers Kelley Larsen and Emily Stockman in the first elimination round, they squandered a one-set lead in the round of 16. Australians Mariafe Artacho and Taliqua Clancy eliminated them 19-21, 21-16, 20-18.

Walsh Jennings said before flying to Xiamen that she and Branagh would next play on the FIVB World Tour at the Itapema Open in Brazil in mid-May. In four FIVB World Tour events since partnering last year, they were eliminated in qualifying once, bounced in the round of 16 twice and forfeited a bronze-medal match due to that shoulder dislocation.

Early season partner changes defined the U.S. women’s landscape. In Xiamen, one of those new teams, Kelly Claes and Brittany Hochevar, reached the final, losing to the Canadians.

It marked the first final four appearance on the senior FIVB World Tour for the 22-year-old Claes, an NCAA champion at USC with former partner Sara Hughes, and for the 36-year-old Hochevar, the older sister of former Kansas City Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar.

MORE: Walsh Jennings documents comeback from surgeries

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Watch Dateline special on McKayla Maroney, Larry Nassar; full episode

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McKayla MaroneyAly Raisman and Martha and Bela Karolyi spoke about their experiences with Larry Nassar in “Silent No More,” an NBC News’ DATELINE special that aired Sunday night.

It marked Maroney’s first interview since she went public as one of the hundreds of survivors who said they were sexually abused by Nassar, a team doctor for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University for two decades.

The Karolyis, both former U.S. women’s national team coordinators, spoke on camera for the first time regarding Nassar, too. Olympians said they were abused at the Karolyis’ ranch in Texas at national team training camps.

Maroney said that at 2011 Worlds in Tokyo she told John Geddert, the personal coach of teammate Jordyn Wieber and head coach for the U.S. team at the event, that Nassar abused her.

NBC News reported that three other people in the car at the time remembered Maroney’s account from seven years ago. Geddert did not respond to requests for comment.

Geddert was suspended by USA Gymnastics in January and is facing a criminal investigation after Nassar, who molested girls at Geddert’s gym in Michigan, was sentenced to 40 to 125 years in prison on Jan. 24. Geddert said he had “zero knowledge” of Nassar’s crimes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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MORE: Karolyis deny knowledge of Nassar crimes | Maroney’s first speech on Nassar