SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazilian prosecutors are investigating whether officials from a first-division club received money to deliberately get the team relegated and keep a more popular club in the top flight, leaving Brazilian football under increased scrutiny with the World Cup just months away.
The case involving Portuguesa's relegation after a four-point penalty that was assessed after the season ended has already led to legal battles, and the latest allegations have only caused more turmoil at a time when the world of football steadily turns its attention to Brazil.
Portuguesa was punished for fielding a suspended player, and prosecutors now say they are looking into whether some club officials knew that the player wasn't eligible but deliberately withheld that information from those responsible for the team selection.
"We have to know if someone made money out of this, and we have strong signs leading to this," Sao Paulo public prosecutor Roberto Senise told Brazilian media, adding that eight people have already been interrogated in the case. "It seems someone allowed the player to play despite knowing about the suspension."
Defending champion Fluminense had originally finished in the relegation zone, but Portuguesa's four-point deduction allowed the more traditional club to stay in the first division.
A legal dispute is still ongoing, however, which could prevent the new season from starting on time. Now police could get involved as well, if the bribery allegations are confirmed.
It's the latest ordeal to damage the image of Brazilian football. The country has been marked by problems in its World Cup preparations — with host city Curitiba still in danger of being dropped — and a flood of fan violence plagued domestic matches throughout 2013.
Portuguesa only used the suspended player in the final round, and the club said it had not been properly informed of the suspension by the national federation. However, prosecutors said they have evidence showing that someone at the club knew the player wasn't eligible.