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Monday, June 27, 2011

Investigator doubts veracity of British paper’s allegations of FIFA corruption

FIFA has suspended two members of its executive committee for one to three years, after its probe into alleged misdealings in the bidding for football’s 2018 and 2022 World Cups. (GETTY photo)

FIFA has suspended two members of its executive committee for one to three years, after its probe into alleged misdealings in the bidding for football’s 2018 and 2022 World Cups. (GETTY photo)
Allegations by British newspaper The Sunday Times that executive committee members of world soccer body FIFA are corrupt were designed to further Britain’s failed bid to host the 2018 World Cup, according to a report compiled by a private investigator on behalf of a world soccer body FIFA executive committee member who was suspended on charges of corruption.

The 24-page report entitled Project Airtime summarizing the investigation by French investigator Jean-Charles Brisard asserts that evidence of the alleged corruption submitted by The Sunday Times to a British parliamentary enquiry into soccer governance as well as FIFA was in part fabricated.

Irrespective of whether Mr. Brisard’s allegations are correct, the report constitutes part of an emerging battle between private detectives working on behalf of parties to the biggest corruption scandal in FIFA’s 107-year history.

It also raises questions about the reporting standards and ethics of media owned by Australian press mogul Robert Murdoch.

The investigation conducted on behalf of Reynald Temarii, the Tahitian FIFA executive committee member who is serving a year-long ban from the federation for breaches of its ethics code, offers a detailed deconstruction of The Sunday Times’ allegations as well as a purported rebuttal of the charges against Mr. Temarii. Mr. Temarii was suspended after the paper reported last year that he was willing to trade his FIFA vote for cash.
Ten FIFA executive committee members have been named as suspects, four of whom have been suspended on charges of corruption and unethical behaviour. FIFA’s ethics committee last month cleared the organization’s president, Sepp Blatter.

The various allegations are based on a variety of sources, including the reporting by The Sunday Times; a private eye investigation of alleged corruption by Jack Warner, a FIFA vice president and former head of North American, Central American and Caribbean soccer, and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) chief Mohamed Bin Hammam; and the British parliamentary enquiry.

The allegations prompted Mr. Warner to resign earlier this month and have effectively terminated the career of Mr. Bin Hammam, a Qatari national who was last month suspended from his position on FIFA’s executive committee and as head of the powerful AFC. FIFA halted its punitive investigation of Mr. Warner, but has said that it had not granted him immunity. The organization said that Mr. Warner had agreed to cooperate as a witness in its inquiry, which is expected to announce its conclusions in July.

The inquiry is looking into allegations that Messrs. Bin Hammam and Warner had colluded in May to bribe officials of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) to ensure that they supported Mr. Bin Hammam’s bid to unseat Mr. Blatter in FIFA presidential elections.

The allegations forced Mr. Bin Hammam, despite his repeated denials of any wrong doing, to last month drop his challenge to succeed Mr. Blatter. Mr. Blatter was re-elected unchallenged at the beginning of June.

Mr. Bin Hammam’s fall has refocused attention on assertions by The Sunday Times that Qatar bribed two FIFA executive committee members in its controversial but successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup. FIFA awarded the tournament to Qatar in December of last year and at the same time voted in favour of Russia hosting the 2018 World Cup.

Mr. Brisard’s report on behalf of Mr. Temarii is but one salvo in the battle of the private investigators.

The allegations against Messrs. Bin Hammam and Warner are based on evidence collected by a private investigator hired by US FIFA executive committee member Chuck Blazer.

For its part, FIFA said earlier this month that it had hired Freeh Group International Europe, a private investigations firm founded by Louis Freeh, a former director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigations to look into allegations that officials from CONCACAF, soccer’s governing body in north and central America as well as the Caribbean, were offered or given bribes in exchange for votes on World Cup 2022 bids.

The Qatar 2022 Bid Committee, which has denied allegations of illicit practices, reportedly engaged prominent international investigations group Kroll to conduct “in-depth source inquiries into the backgrounds, activities and reputations” of former FIFA secretary-general Michel Zen-Ruffinen and of a former FIFA executive committee member from Mali.

The investigation was supposedly intended to help Qatar understand the “competitive environment” the oil-rich Gulf state was facing in its bid for the World Cup. Qatar wanted to ascertain among other things why Mr. Zen-Ruffinen had charged that Qatar had colluded with Spain and Portugal who had tabled a joint bid to host the 2018 World Cup to swap votes.

Mr. Blatter confirmed the illegal swap agreement in February despite the soccer body having announced earlier that it had investigated the allegation but had failed to find sufficient evidence. Mr. Blatter’s stunning acknowledgement raises questions about the integrity of FIFA’s policing of adherence to good governance constituted a bid to undermine Mr. Bin Hammam’s challenge to his presidency.

In an indication of the permissive environment Mr. Blatter has allowed to develop in FIFA under his 12-year tenure, he asserted that the swap agreement was not a concern because it had not affected the executive committee votes in favor of Russia and Qatar.

In his report, Mr. Brisard charges that The Sunday Times allegations constituted “a plot against M. Temarii. Mr. Brisard admits that “there was no clear indication of any external support” but concludes that the paper’s reporting “could have helped bidders in the World Cup bid for 2018 and 2022.”

Geraldine Lesieur, a Paris lawyer who represents Mr. Temarii, told Reuters news agency that our “investigation above all made it possible to demonstrate precisely how they (The Sunday Times) created a veritable ... fabrication making it look like my client had said things he didn’t say during the interview.”

Ms Lesieur pointed out that Mr. Temarii had been cleared by FIFA of the most serious corruption allegations against him, though he had been suspended “for minor violations of ethics rules.”

Mr. Brisard’s report raised eyebrows among journalists because it included personal details about The Sunday Times journalists who had posed as lobbying consultants during their reporting of alleged FIFA corruption, including their home addresses, family information, foreign travel records, and details of previous investigative work, including other fake identities they had adopted for undercover reporting.

Sunday Times editor John Witherow, defended his paper’s reporting on the FIFA scandal in an interview with Reuters and expressed surprise at the fact that private investigators had been looking into the affairs of “journalists who are investigating matters of public interest.”

The paper’s managing editor, Richard Caseby, said “the claims that The Sunday Times fabricated its evidence against Reynald Temarii are utterly untrue. There is no evidence whatsoever to substantiate the claims. ... The Sunday Times investigation was clear, fair and accurate and we fully complied with FIFA’s request for assistance in its investigation. We note that Mr Temarii is still under suspension by FIFA.”

Mr. Murdoch’s endorsement of deception as a legitimate journalistic reporting tool is not a universally accepted practice in the media. Many news organizations insist that there reporters clearly identify themselves as such in recognition of the fact that it is a source’s right to know who he or she is talking to and to choose whether or not to be a source.

The questions raised about The Sunday Times reporting of the FIFA scandal come on the heels of the News of the World, another Murdoch publication that is under investigation by Scotland Yard for allegedly hiring private detectives to hack into voice and e-mail, of British politicians, celebrities, soccer stars, and members of the royal family.

The scandal forced former News of the World Editor Amy Coulson to resign earlier this year as British Prime Minister David Cameron’s communications director.

There is no suggestion that Mr. Brisard engaged in illicit practices to compile his report.

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