Wed, Jun 04, 2014 - Page 20 News List

Australia caught in World Cup graft scandal

AFP and Reuters, SYDNEY and MUSCAT

Australian soccer officials yesterday rejected suggestions that they acted improperly during their bid to host the 2022 World Cup after the “development” grants they gave to corruption-riddled overseas soccer bodies were questioned.

Bonita Mersiades, the corporate affairs head for Football Federation Australia when the bid was run, claims that handing out the grants was an act similar to those described in bribery allegations made against a leading Qatari soccer official.

Britain’s Sunday Times has alleged that former FIFA vice president Mohamed bin Hammam paid more than US$5 million to officials around the world before the 2010 vote to win support for the Gulf state’s successful 2022 bid.

Qatar’s World Cup organizers deny any wrongdoing.

Mersiades told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that questions also have to be asked about Australia’s bid, saying that “some of the evidence published in relation to Qatar was that some of the money was given to development projects — we gave money for development projects, we gave US$4 million to the Oceania Football Confederation for sports development.”

“That was via the government; in and of itself there was nothing wrong with sports development projects, but the question for Michael Garcia was: ‘Was there a vote attached to it?’” she added, referring to the US lawyer leading FIFA’s probe into the 2018 and 2022 host bids.

Former US prosecutor Garcia heads an investigative FIFA committee and was in Oman yesterday to meet Qatari officials for the probe.

“After months of interviewing witnesses and gathering materials, we intend to complete that phase of our investigation by June 9, 2014, a and to submit a report to the Adjudicatory Chamber approximately six weeks thereafter,” Garcia said to a FIFA panel.

Six weeks from next Monday is July 21, a week after this year’s tournament ends in Rio de Janeiro.

Speaking in Muscat, Garcia declined further comment, saying he was “restrained by ethics.”

Football Federation Australia denied it had done anything wrong, saying in statement that “Australia’s activities throughout were transparent and proper.”

In the December 2010 contest to host the tournament, Qatar received 11 votes, South Korea four, the US and Japan three each and Australia one in the first elimination round. Qatar went on to beat the US by 14 votes to eight.

Mersiades said people in soccer organizations worldwide had allegedly received money from Bin Hammam, including bodies in Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Caribbean.

“Certainly, the people that Australia was giving money to were very much similar to the people Bin Hammam was giving money to,” she told the broadcaster. “Jack Warner was one of the key ones. Whenever FIFA corruption comes up, so does Jack Warner’s name.”

Warner, a former influential vice president at FIFA, resigned from all soccer posts in 2011 after he was accused of facilitating bribes to members of Caribbean soccer union CONCACAF on behalf of Bin Hammam.

Last year, a damning report by CONCACAF said a US$462,000 donation the Australian federation made to the Caribbean body as part of its 2022 bid was allegedly stolen by Warner.

The federation said yesterday it only became aware the donation had allegedly been misused when the CONCACAF report came out. It said the matter was being dealt with by Garcia.

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