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Brazil prosecutors begin probe of World Cup stadium's safety

An aerial view of the construction of the Arena Pantanal soccer stadium, which will host several matches of the 2014 World Cup, in Cuiaba, F
An aerial view of the construction of the Arena Pantanal soccer stadium, which will host several matches of the 2014 World Cup, in Cuiaba, F

CUIABA, Brazil (Reuters) - Prosecutors on Wednesday began their evaluation of whether a World Cup stadium in Cuiabá, Brazil, is safe following an October fire there.

They said they did not expect to deliver a verdict until at least the end of the month.

Federal prosecutor Bianca de Britto led a group of engineers inspecting the unfinished Arena Pantanal, one of 12 Brazilian stadiums due to host games of the soccer tournament that opens on June 12.

Reuters reported on Saturday that the stadium suffered "structural damage" in the October 25 fire, according to a previously undisclosed 18-page report prepared in December by the Mato Grosso state Public Ministry, an independent judicial body.

State government officials have said damage was much more limited than the Public Ministry described, and it has since been repaired. The secretary general of world soccer body FIFA, Jerome Valcke, said on Tuesday that, following an independent consultant's visit, he is convinced the facility is safe.

However, Britto said data provided so far by the stadium's builders is "not conclusive in terms of confirming the Arena Pantanal's safety."

She said federal prosecutors want to see a full evaluation of the structure's soundness conducted by the stadium's original designer, or an independent engineer, before they allow games to be played there.

The state Public Ministry is conducting its own separate investigation, which has been delayed until next week because that is the soonest that inspectors from Brasilia can come to Cuiabá, prosecutor Clovis de Almeida told Reuters.

"Only after that visit will we know for certain the stadium's condition," he said by telephone.

Brazil's World Cup preparations have been plagued by numerous construction delays and accidents that have killed six workers. The government says that, despite some setbacks, the tournament will bring economic benefits and enhance the country's image as a good tourist destination and rising economic power.

Almeida and other prosecutors have said they do not trust the state government's assurances because officials continue to play down the severity of the fire. Full disclosure of the fire's magnitude could have slowed down construction at a time when the stadium was already badly behind schedule, the prosecutors say.

The Public Ministry's report includes photos showing melted concrete and other damage to elements it said were part of the Arena Pantanal's core structure. FIFA had said, before the report's release, that it was aware only of more minor damage to insulation, piping and electrical cables, among other components, from the fire.

Alysson Sander, a senior official at the Mato Grosso state government agency overseeing construction of the stadium, said "there is no global damage to the structure."

"Tests were done, and the Arena's structure will support the flow of the crowd," Sander said.

Police say the Arena Pantanal fire may have been caused by arson, but no arrests have been made.

The World Cup matches scheduled for Cuiabá are June 13, between Chile and Australia; June 17, between Russia and South Korea; June 21, between Nigeria and Bosnia, and June 24, between Japan and Colombia.

(Reporting by Jonas da Silva and Brian Winter in Sao Paulo; Editing by Todd Benson and Mohammad Zargham)

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