RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The mayor of Rio de Janeiro will face an inquiry into alleged misconduct in the construction of a golf course for the 2016 Olympics in a nature reserve, according to documents provided by the public prosecutors' office Friday.
Golf's return to the Olympics after a more than century-long absence was meant to be triumphal, but the construction of the course in the Marapendi nature reserve — a narrow strip of green in the heart of one of Rio's fastest-growing neighborhoods — has been dogged by legal wrangling and protests by activists.
The inquiry into Mayor Eduardo Paes was opened earlier this month by prosecutor Alberto Flores Camargo following a complaint by the environmental group Golf For Whom, which contends the city has harmed taxpayers by allowing a private developer to build the course at what is expected to be a massive financial gain.
The documents released Friday represent yet another possible legal imbroglio surrounding the golf course. In a separate case, the state prosecutors' office has alleged ground was broken without the necessary environmental impact studies and other legal requirements.
The documents show that Camargo is deciding whether to bring civil charges of "misconduct causing damage to the public treasury" against Rio's mayor over allegations he helped pave the way for the golf course developer to make a hefty profit on its $21 million investment. The activists allege developers stand to earn some $350 million, according to the documents.
"It must be verified whether the benefits granted (to the developer) were excessive compared with the compensation demanded by the city, which would cause damage to the public treasury," the documents said.
The activists allege the city government gerrymandered the boundaries of the nature reserve and changed area zoning laws in order to allow for the construction of the course, as well as a neighboring complex of luxury residential towers, called Riserva Golf.
Buildings in the area used to be capped at six stories, but the four towers that make up the Riserva Golf complex are expected to stand some 20 stories high.
Officials with the Rio state prosecutors' office say the inquiry could last up to a year, with the prosecutor ultimately deciding to shelve the complaint or bring charges against the mayor.
A civil conviction on misconduct charges could result in a public official being forced out of office or banned from holding another public office for up to 10 years, the officials said. Paes took office in 2009, and his second term will end in 2016.
Because the inquiry does not challenge the legality of golf course, it will not affect its construction.
While the documents say that copies were sent to City Hall, as well as to the developers, a spokeswoman for Mayor Paes said in an email that "City Hall has not been officially informed about this particular matter."
Follow Jenny Barchfield on Twitter: @jennybarchfield
Associated Press writer Stephen Wade in Rio contributed to this report.