Land dispute thickens in Rio

SAO PAULO -- The ownership dispute over the land set to be used for the Olympic golf course for 2016 took another twist Friday when a court ordered the city of Rio de Janeiro to hand over the contracts with the owner of the land -- and city officials said no such documents existed.

A Brazilian court issued a search warrant for the contracts on behalf of a company claiming ownership of the property, saying it had the right to see the documents related to the land.

The city said it hasn't signed any contracts for the golf course because it will be a private undertaking. It had publicly announced earlier this year, however, that it made an agreement with the land owner to have the course built on it. It said it would alter some of the building requirements in the area and, in exchange, the land owner and a construction company would pay for the $30 million course.

"The golf course is an undertaking exclusively private, which will be developed by the Rio 2016 ," the mayor's office said in a statement.

It was Rio mayor Eduardo Paes who announced the Olympic golf project in March, when the city said it would change current regulations to benefit the land owner and the construction company who will build the course.

Local Olympic organizers said they expect the contracts for the course to be finalized by the end of June, and that the city wouldn't be directly involved even though it was responsible for choosing the land and facilitating the agreement.

The contracts for the golf course will involve the Rio 2016 Committee, an association that will run the course, the construction company and the developer who says he currently owns the land.

That land decision is in the hands of Brazil's Higher Court of Justice, and a final ruling could take months or even years. Still, the city says it has no Plan B for the golf course and has not looked at alternatives to build the course, which will mark the sport's return to the Olympics after more than 100 years.

The International Golf Federation recently said construction on the course is expected to start around October, and the goal is to have it ready for test events early in 2015.

But the lawyer for the company disputing the ownership of the land, Elmway Participacoes, said Friday he wants to suspend any activity in the land until a decision on the property is made. Sergio Antunes Lima Jr. said the city doesn't have the right to make any deals to build on the land before a judge decides who owns it.

American designer Gil Hanse, who was picked to build the course, recently acknowledged that his project was based entirely on the land under dispute and that any changes would force him to start from scratch.

The city recently told The Associated Press that it was "evaluating the measures it will take" regarding the land dispute.

Elmway Participacoes has been trying to claim ownership of the land for the past three years. The other alleged owner, entrepreneur Pasquale Mauro, has several properties in the region and has won many similar disputes.

The city has said before that it was satisfied with Pasquale's proof of ownership and that he had all the needed documents over the land.

Elmway initially won a court battle that was later reversed, and at any time a judge could rule that work can't be done in the land until a final decision on the ownership is reached.

Golf made its debut at the second modern Olympics in Paris in 1900, but was removed after the 1904 St. Louis Games. It was reinstated in a vote by the International Olympic Committee in 2009, and has a spot guaranteed in 2020, but a good impression in Rio will be critical in keeping the sport in the Games beyond that. Another IOC vote on adding or deleting sports is scheduled for 2017.

Local organizers had considered using existing golf courses in Rio, but eventually decided to build a new one because the renovation projects would likely be too complex and expensive. The Rio 2016 Committee wants the venue to become a legacy to the city and serve as a tool for bettering youngsters through sports. It will be used as a public facility after the 2016 Games.