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Monday, September 19, 2011

Investigation of Thai soccer boss puts FIFA’s anti-corruption campaign to the test



Embattled FIFA executive committee member Worawi Makudi (Source: AFC)

By James M. Dorsey

FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s vow to stamp out corruption is being put to the test by an investigation into soccer-related business dealings of FIFA executive committee member and head of the Football Association of Thailand (FAT), Worawi Makudi, that may violate FIFA’s ethics code.

The world soccer body has asked Mr. Makudi for clarifications about the use of $860,000 in soccer development grants paid to FAT under the FIFA Goal program for the construction of a soccer training facility and an administrative building. The two facilities were allegedly built in violation of FIFA rules on land that belongs to Mr. Makudi rather than FAT.

FAT used $460,000 of FIFA funding in 2004 to build a pitch with artificial turf on the land, according to a project report published on FIFA's website. The federation received a further $400,000 in 2007 to build a three-story headquarters providing "the necessary space for professional leadership," FIFA said. FIFA president Sepp Blatter inaugurated the artificial turf pitch in September 2009.

Thai media reports quoted Mr. Makudi, who did not respond to requests for an interview, as denying any wrongdoing and saying that title to the land had been transferred to FAT. FAT and Mr. Makudi did not respond to repeated requests for the organization’s rules of conflict of interest and comment on the holdings of Mr. Makudi and other FAT executives. "Back then, FIFA itself did not see anything wrong with our application. So why is there a problem now?” The Nation newspaper quoted 59-year old Mr. Makudi, who has been a member of FIFA’s executive committee for the past 14 years, as saying.

The allegations that Mr. Makudi rather than FAT held title to the land at the time of the grants and continues to do so are based on official Thai documents that are part of a draft report of investigations conducted by a private investigation firm. The documents also show that Mr. Makudi obtained a first mortgage in 2007 and a second in 2009 on the property and that he is a majority shareholder of the Thai Premier League. The title deeds listing Mr. Makudi’s holdings and mortgages were issued by the Office of Land of Bangkok, Nong Chok District, of the Thai interior ministry’s department of lands and printed by the department on June 10 of this year.

A list of shareholders in Thai Premier League Co., Ltd, the owner of Thailand’s foremost professional soccer league, issued on May 26, 2011 by the Thai commerce ministry’s department of business development lists Mr. Makudi as owning 45% of the league’s shares with the other 55% held by five associates of Mr. Makudi, including FAT secretary general Ong-arj Kosinka, Wichit Yamboonrueang, FAT director Thanya Phowichit, Chatchai Pudyaporn and.Thara Phruekchaum. None of the 18 soccer clubs in the league have a stake in the league’s ownership.

“A president or senior (association) official cannot have a financial interest or association (with soccer-related institutions). This is a conflict of interest,” said Peter Velappan, who was secretary general of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) from 1997 to 2007. Mr. Velappan suggested in a telephone interview that strict financial controls maintained during his tenure had slipped since his departure. 

The AFC did not respond to questions regarding its conflict of interest policies and whether it was aware of the holdings in soccer-related properties by its executive committee member.

A FIFA spokesman said the world body was seeking clarifications from Mr. Makudi. In a written response to questions, FIFA’s media department said that “should there be any evidence of any potential breach of the Code of Ethics, then the matter would be referred to the Ethics Committee in compliance with article 16 of the Code of Ethics. However, at the time of writing, no ethics proceedings or ethics investigation has been opened against Mr Makudi.”

FIFA policy states that “private or personal interests include gaining any possible advantage for himself, his family, relatives, friends and acquaintances" constitute a conflict of interest.

If Mr. Makudi is referred to FIFA’s ethics committee and found guilty, his case could revive questions about the integrity of Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup. Qatar reportedly promised to fund the building of a soccer academy in Thailand as part of its World Cup campaign. The promise would not violate FIFA rules, which only bans gifts to individuals, but would be contentious if indeed the land on which it was going to be built was privately owned by a FIFA executive committee member.

Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, Mr. Makudi said he had responded to FIFA’s request for clarification and that he was disappointed that the soccer body had not made it clear that he had already replied. “FIFA has written to me and I have responded already with my legal opinion and it is all finished. I believe that I have all the legal papers that show everything was done according to official procedures. We have nothing to worry about,” The Daily Telegraph quoted Mr. Makudi as saying.

Mr. Velappan charged that FIFA had turned a blind eye to questionable financial dealings and investments by some of its executive committee members. He noted that disgraced former FIFA vice president and suspended AFC head Mohammed Bin Hammam, a Qatari national, had chaired FIFA’s Goal project committee that disburses funds for the development of soccer since its creation in 1999. Goal allocates millions of dollars each year to fund soccer activity in less-developed soccer nations.

“All grants from the FIFA Goal project must all go to national associations. We often found that monies in Africa and parts of Asia went to private properties. Now there are annual audits…FIFA set up strict rules, monies had to go direct to FAs (football associations) who had to budget projects and were followed by audits. We had Goal offices in KL (Kuala Lumpur) and Colombo that were supposed to monitor but obviously didn't,” Mr. Velappan said.

“Bin Hammam gave a lot of money to his friends with no accountability -- Makudi, (Sri Lankan soccer chief and AFC executive committee member (Vernon) Manilal (Fernando) - these are the two bandits we have. Some other guys like the Myanmar guy (Myanmar Football Federation President Zaw Zaw) and the Nepal guy (All Nepal Football Association {ANFA} president Ganesh Thapa), got a lot of financial help. It is not clear what these funds were meant for and what they were used for but they all benefitted personally,” he said.

Like Mr. Makudi, Messrs. Manilal, Zaw and Thapa could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Makudi was recently cleared by the FIFA ethics committee of charges of involvement in Mr. Bin Hammam’s alleged attempts to bribe officials of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU). Messrs Makudi and Manilal accompanied Mr. Bin Hammam to a meeting in May in Trinidad of CFU officials during which the AFC boss reportedly bribed Caribbean executives to support his failed bid for the FIFA presidency.

Mr. Bin Hammam, who has denied the allegations, withdrew his candidacy in late May hours before FIFA suspended him pending an investigation. His withdrawal paved the way for the unchallenged re-election in June of Mr. Blatter as FIFA president for a fourth term. FIFA banned Mr. Bin Hamman in July for life from involvement in soccer on the basis of the outcome of the investigation. The Qatari national last week lost his appeal in FIFA and is taking his case to the Court of Arbitration of Sport. The case is the worst scandal in FIFA’s 107-year history.

Former English Football Association chairman Lord Triesman charged during a British parliamentary enquiry in May that Mr. Makudi had demanded the TV rights for a proposed friendly between England and Thailand in return for his vote in favour of England’s failed 2018 World Cup bid. Mr. Makudi has vowed to sue Lord Triesman for libel, asserting that he could prove that the allegation was false.

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