Fri, Jun 26, 2015 - Page 18 News List

Swiss authorities probing FIFA development grants

Reuters, LONDON

Swiss authorities are examining development grants made by FIFA around the world as part of their investigation into soccer’s global governing body and its award of World Cup hosting rights to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022, a source familiar with the probe said.

In particular, investigators are looking at how the money was spent and whether there is any falsification of documents, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The grants mainly go to national soccer associations and are often earmarked for new soccer pitches and related facilities, or for training programs.

The Swiss investigation is running alongside and in cooperation with a US probe that led to the criminal indictment on May 27 of nine current and former FIFA officials and five executives in sports marketing and broadcasting on bribery, money laundering and wire fraud charges.

Information technology specialists from Switzerland’s federal police agency, as well as prosecutors and financial experts, are poring over masses of evidence collected by the office of the Swiss attorney general, the source said.

The evidence includes voluminous internal records, most in digitized form, seized from the offices of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, secretary-general Jerome Valcke and finance and administrative chief Markus Kattner.

The source said “almost everything” in Valcke’s office had been seized.

Between 1999 and last year, FIFA spent US$2 billion on development grants, with much of the money going to regional federations and national soccer groups around the world. Often tiny island territories in the Pacific and the Caribbean have received more money under some programs than the biggest soccer playing nations.

This has led to allegations that Blatter had supported these minnows so that they would be more likely to support him.

Under FIFA’s system for electing the president, a territory such as the Cook Islands, with a population of just over 10,000, has the same single vote as a soccer-mad nation such as Brazil, with more than 200 million people.

Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber announced late last month that his office was conducting an investigation into whether there was corruption in FIFA’s awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 competition to Qatar.

In particular, he is looking at whether there was money laundering and disloyal management, which under Swiss law is a criminal offense. It is based on whether a manager violates his or her duties or causes or permits damage to an entity’s assets.

Swiss investigators have multiple lines of inquiry to pursue in connection with the Qatar 2022 award. However, evidence related to the 2018 World Cup award is proving difficult to find, the source said. FIFA disclosed in November last year that the Russian computers used in the nation’s successful bid had been destroyed.

In the indictment of 14 officials and executives, US federal prosecutors highlighted an allegedly questionable US$10 million payment by FIFA, at the request of South African soccer officials, to a Caribbean soccer body in Trinidad and Tobago. South African officials are not cooperating with Swiss investigators, the source said.

Swiss authorities did not officially open their investigation into how FIFA awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups until March. At that point, Swiss banks were asked to comb their records and notify the authorities of potentially suspicious transactions which might be related to FIFA.

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