A high-level committee in the Caribbean comprised of a former Chief Justice, a forensic auditor and a US federal court judge has issued a report on the financial management of CONCACAF with big implications – and one key question – for Australia.
Just when did Australian World Cup Bid officials realise they had been taken for a ride?
They certainly didn’t want to believe it when I told them – on numerous occasions – before I was sacked by Ben Buckley in January 2010.
Was it when they turned up at the Trinidad and Tobago football centre of excellence (COE) in Macoya in August 2010 for a visit with Jack Warner and his underlings?
Alarm bells should have been ringing as soon as they saw the bust of Joao Havelange at the front of the complex. The COE comprises a hotel, swimming pool, convention centre, multi-story health club and the Marvin Lee football stadium. Only the year before artificial turf had been laid on the order of FIFA’s local development officer – one of Jack Warner’s sons.
But somehow, a visiting Australian delegation decided it was worthwhile spending US$462,200 of our hard-earned money on ‘upgrading’ the Marvin Lee stadium. What for?
Well, it was nothing to do with Jack Warner’s vote for the World Cup of course. For a start, Jack had learned not to directly discuss his vote in person. He confined such discussions to his friend and personal PR advisor, and FFA’s highest-profile consultant, Peter Hargitay. Warner had tried to convince the former England bid leader, Lord David Triesman, to make a similar investment about one year earlier. When Jack nominated his personal account to receive US$2.5 million for vague good works, Triesman looked at his watch and departed.
England didn’t get Warner’s vote. But then neither did Australia.
Why is this relevant now? Well click here for the report released on the weekend of the forensic investigation into two decades of creative accounting by Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer. The word “allegations” is there 22 times; “misappropriate” gets 26 mentions; and “fraud” scores 44 hits. Get past the contents and the executive summary – where Australia is mentioned – and find page 96.
Following the visit in August 2010, the Aussie cheque turns up one month later.
The account name given to FFA sounded ok, so apparently there was no need for due diligence, and a cheque was presented for the ‘stadium upgrade’ of US$462,200. By the time you add-in the costs of travelling there – presumably with consultant in tow – at least twice, the total bill would have amounted to more than half-a-million dollars.
The Caribbean investigative team published that Australia’s money isn’t mentioned in any financial records. It disappeared. Evaporated. The bank account it went to wasn’t anything to do with football. It was a Warner personal account. The report concludes that Warner “misappropriated” the money and committed a “fraud”.
But, back home, someone forgot to mention it also.
FFA neglected to disclose this generous grant. Where did the money come from? Our taxes? FFA general revenue? An offshore account of the Chairman? There is no public record of the donation; no media release; no mention in FFA’s 2011 Final Report to the Government on the World Cup Bid; and nothing about it in FFA’s annual financial statements for 2010-11.
Why did FFA not shout from the rooftops about this act of great Aussie generosity? Why didn’t FFA get up and talk about it? Why wasn’t there a picture opportunity?
Was it because – just like the all expenses paid trip to Cyprus of the Trinidad and Tobago U-20 team – someone knew that some of us might not see this gesture in quite the same light as they did? Does this generous gesture also need forensic analysis?
And who got us into this? What was the role of Peter Hargitay?
We know that in September 2010, Hargitay was busy elsewhere in the Caribbean: he was photographed with FFA’s John Boultbee as an MOU was signed with the Jamaican FA for access of up to $2.5 million of Australian taxpayers’ money. On that occasion, Hargitay is alleged to have been paid three times over: by FFA, the Jamaican FA and on commission from a shirt company to sell football shirts.
So today, we hang our heads in embarrassment.
Our World Cup bid was scrutinised by agencies and we were assured by a slew of public figures that it was clean. But I guess that depends on one’s definition of ‘clean’ doesn’t it?
Investigators half a world away have shown us the evidence of what should have been revealed by our own people.
The FFA must reveal the date when they first heard from the Caribbean that something had gone dreadfully wrong with our donation. And they should explain why they didn’t make it public.
Will FFA get the taxpayers’ money back? Will FIFA Ethics Committee member, Les Murray, assist them? Will the Australian Federal Police take an interest? And will the Government seek a proper audit this time?
Whatever the answer to those questions, one thing’s for sure: FFA know they can’t say didn’t know and that they weren’t warned. And they know that I know.
By the way, in one final irony – Jack Warner was Minister for National Security in Trinidad and Tobago. The police and the fraud squad answered to him.
UPDATE: Since publishing this article on Monday, Jack Warner has resigned from his Ministerial post.
Additional reporting courtesy of Andrew Jennings.