Exclusive: Brazil World Cup stadium was structurally damaged by fire

Sat Feb 15, 2014 6:25pm EST
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By Brian Winter

CUIABA, Brazil (Reuters) - An October fire at a Brazilian World Cup stadium caused far more damage than previously reported, according to a report by local prosecutors obtained by Reuters, raising questions about whether the stadium will be ready for the competition and why government officials have insisted the blaze was minor.

State officials overseeing construction of the still-unfinished Arena Pantanal in the western city of Cuiabá, which is among 12 Brazilian cities scheduled to host games, have long said the October 25 fire wasn't a major cause for concern.

However, an 18-page report prepared in December by the Mato Grosso state Public Ministry, an independent judicial body similar to the district attorney's office in the United States, warned that the blaze caused "structural damage" that "could compromise the overall stability of the construction."

The report was delivered in December to the state agency overseeing the stadium's construction, the Extraordinary Secretariat for the World Cup, or Secopa. State prosecutors provided Reuters with access to the document, whose content has not been previously disclosed to the public.

It is unclear whether the damage described in the report has since been fixed. Prosecutors are scheduled to conduct a follow-up inspection of the fire site next Thursday, and they said they hoped the disclosure of the report's contents would lead local officials to be more cooperative and transparent than they have until now.

Mato Grosso state government officials continue to say that the fire did not cause structural damage.

"It has been impossible to get good information to this point," said Clovis de Almeida, a prosecutor at the Public Ministry. "We will make sure that no games occur (at the stadium) until the safety is completely guaranteed."

Under Brazil's complex legal system, the Public Ministry has a preventive role in addition to its prosecutorial mandate. Almeida is part of a special unit of prosecutors charged with monitoring the state government's actions as it prepares for the Cup.   Continued...

Aerial view of the Arena Pantanal stadium in Cuiaba, November 18, 2013. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker