June 4, 2015 – 8:00AM
Nick McKenzie, Richard Baker
Jack Warner: Allegedly stole a $500,000 stadium redevelopment payment.
Federal bureaucrats have been contacted by the Australian Federal Police, and members of a proposed senate inquiry committee are seeking answers from Australian soccer chiefs as scrutiny ramps up into Australia’s doomed 2022 World Cup bid.
Fairfax Media can reveal that senior members of the senate committee set to investigate the nation’s anti-foreign bribery regime are pushing for Football Federation Australia officials to answer questions about the $500,000 “stadium redevelopment” payment, which was allegedly stolen by disgraced former FIFA executive Jack Warner in 2010.
And on Tuesday night, during a separate committee hearing, health and sport department officials revealed they had been contacted by the AFP, which is assessing whether any Australian or foreign laws may have been breached in connection to the alleged Warner theft.
During questioning by independent senator Nick Xenophon about the FFA’s interaction with FIFA chiefs during the World Cup bid, the department’s general counsel, Chris Reid, said: “The AFP has told the department that it is assessing the allegations that have been made. The department will cooperate in any processes that the AFP takes part in”.
Department deputy secretary Andrew Stuart also told Senator Xenophon that while questions about the alleged Warner theft should be directed to the FFA, “we are aware there was some fairly fishy business associated with these bids.”
However, they said the misappropriated Warner funds had not come out of the $42.25 million the federal government gave to the FFA for the 2010 World Cup bid.
But Mr Xenophon said that any potential FFA governance lapses in connection to its own funds may should prompt fresh questions about its use of tax-payer dollars to attempt to secure the World Cup hosting rights. FFA insiders have also told Fairfax Media that the FFA initially sought to use the government funds to make the stadium development payment later stolen by Warner. “The FFA decided against this and made sure it came out of its own revenue stream, which suggests someone at the FFA knew this transaction shouldn’t involve the government’s money,” an FFA source aware of the transaction said.
Mr Warner was charged last week as part of a sensational investigation by US authorities which has also led to the arrest of other former and serving FIFA bosses and prompted FIFA’s chief Sepp Blatter’s announcement on Wednesday that he will resign.
The FFA payment to Mr Warner is also likely to be probed by the proposed Australian senate committee investigating whether enough is being done to stop Australian firms paying kickbacks to overseas officials to win favours. Labor senator Sam Dastyari announced his intention to launch the committee earlier this year, with Senator Xenophon’s support.
Senator Xenophon told Fairfax Media on Wednesday that the FFA should explain before the committee what steps it took to prevent the money being pocketed by Mr Warner when the FFA paid the funds to help develop a Caribbean football centre that was founded and is controlled by Mr Warner.
Among the witnesses who could be called will be FFA whistleblower Bonita Mersiades, who warned the FFA in 2010 it was not doing enough to ensure its bid campaign funds, including $45 million provided by the Rudd government, weren’t being misappropriated after being sent to soccer projects linked to shady FIFA officials.
Senator Xenophon said he wasn’t accusing the FFA of impropriety or bribery but, said it needed to explain what it did, if anything, to prevent the $500,000 being corruptly misappropriated by a soccer official whose support it was simultaneously chasing.
“Australians have a right to know what the FFA did to manage the conflict of interest and the possibility the funds would misappropriated by Mr Warner,” Senator Xenophon said.
The FFA has insisted it acted appropriately in making the payment for the stadium redevelopment into a bank account belonging to a soccer body controlled by Warner.
In an open letter, FFA chairman Frank Lowy said Australia’s World Cup bid was clean but admitted mistakes had been made.
“(Since) Australia received just one vote in its World Cup bid, I have nursed a bitter grievance,” wrote Lowy. “We ran a clean bid. I know that others did not, and I have shared what I know with the authorities.
“But did we make mistakes? Yes. Were we naïve? In some cases, yes. Would we do things differently in future? Absolutely.”
Lowy admitted he knew Mr Warner to be a “colourful character” and Australia had been asked to donate $4 million to help develop a Centre of Excellence in Trinidad & Tobago. “We compromised and offered $500,000 to fund a preliminary feasibility study,” wrote Lowy.
He said he had since demanded CONCACAF to give back the money “because it wasn’t used for the purpose we intended”.
Under the US corruption laws, an organisation can be prosecuted for recklessly making a payment that is later pocketed as a bribe.
Senator Dastyari said his proposed committee would examine whether Australian laws need to be brought into line with the US regime, which was used last week to arrest several former and serving FIFA officials.
In 2010, when the FFA paid the stadium funds to a Warner-controlled soccer organisation’s bank account, the FFA was desperately trying to secure Mr Warner’s backing for its World Cup bid. At the time of the payment, Mr Warner had a reputation, which was well known to the FFA and the football world, for corruptly pocketing funds linked to soccer projects under his control.
Mr Warner reportedly been charged over allegations he was paid millions in bribes disguised as Caribbean soccer development funds and which were linked to the South Africa Football Association.
The Canberra Times