Congressional auditors on trail of federal funds in Olympic scandal
February 8, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Congressional auditors said Monday they will examine how federal money was used for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City amid allegations of corruption by organizers.
"We're going to focus in on what federal funding has been awarded or is being requested," said Bernie Ungar, director of the General Accounting Office (GAO).
Salt Lake City bid committee members have been accused of lavishing expensive gifts, scholarships, medical care and cash amounting to more than $600,000 on members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in order to win the right to host the 2002 Games.
An independent Ethics Committee report is due Tuesday on the role of local Olympic organizers. But some local officials say those investigators had their hands tied because they had no subpoena power to force testimony from witnesses.
The investigative arm of Congress became involved at the request of Rep. John Dingell (D-Michigan). The ranking Democrat on the House Commerce Committee specifically asked the GAO to look into how taxpayer money would be used by Salt Lake City for road, mass transit and other projects linked to the Games.
In his letter to the agency, Dingell said safeguards were needed to ensure taxpayer funds were not misused. He also asked investigators to assess whether U.S. laws should be changed to guard federal funds and crack down on corruption.
"We do not know whether Salt Lake City would have been selected as the site for the Games in the absence of the alleged improper activities," Dingell pointed out.
"But we do know that, as a result of winning the Games, Salt Lake City may now be the recipient of significant U.S. taxpayer dollars through a host of federally financed projects and other federal grants or awards," said the congressman.
He's also requested an audit of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta for comparison.
The GAO investigation, which could last months, is expected to get under way within the next four weeks. The Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service already are investigating the cash-for-votes scandal that has rocked the Olympic organization worldwide.
Four IOC members have resigned, and five have been suspended. The allegations prompted the IOC to make some changes in the way cities are chosen to host the games.
And the scandal also has led IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch to request a vote of confidence in his leadership at a special meeting next month.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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