Australia's bid team for the 2022 World Cup have been accused by a whistleblower of paying the disgraced former FIFA vice-president, Jack Warner, half a million Australian dollars (around £274,000) in the belief that he would vote for them.
The allegation has been made to Michael Garcia, the American lawyer leading FIFA’s investigations into claims of corruption in the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
The whistleblower, who attended meetings at which the Australian bid team discussed the Warner transaction and others of a similar nature, claims that while the money was paid to upgrade the Marvin Lee Stadium in Macoya, Trinidad, it was always intended to influence Warner’s vote.
Warner was at the time president of CONCACAF, the governing body for football in North America, Central America and the Caribbean. The stadium is part of the Joao Havelange Centre of Excellence, a football academy built on land alleged to have been owned by Warner. He denied ownership, insisting it belonged to the Caribbean Football Union, of which he was president.
A cheque for 462,200 Australian dollars was deposited into an account controlled by Warner in September 2010 and an official report into integrity in Caribbean football in April 2013 concluded that he ‘misappropriated these funds’.
The 2018 and 2022 votes, in which Warner participated along with 21 fellow members of FIFA’s Executive Committee (ExCo), took place in December 2010, the tournaments being awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively.
Australia, whose bid for the 2022 tournament had been in competition with Japan, South Korea and the United States as well as Qatar, received only one vote in the initial ballot, despite spending £25million on their bid. Warner, who is believed to have voted for the US in that ballot, resigned from all his international football posts in June 2011, which effectively placed him beyond sanction by FIFA.
The significance now of the whistleblower’s testimony to Garcia is that it has been made to a formal FIFA investigation, specifically linking money paid by a bidding nation for bidding support. Not only were bribes explicitly outlawed in FIFA’s ‘Rules of Conduct’ for the bid processes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup but the ‘ethical behaviour’ clauses also said bidding nations ‘shall refrain from attempting to influence members of the FIFA Executive Committee (ExCo) or any other FIFA officials, in particular by offering benefits for specific behavior’.
Giving money for a stadium upgrade if it was intended as a ‘sweetener’ to influence the World Cup vote would have been against the rules unless Football Federation Australia (FFA), under whose leadership the bid was mounted, could demonstrate that the money was going to be given to that project anyway.
An FFA spokesman told The Mail on Sunday: ‘Australia, like all nations bidding for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups, was required by FIFA to establish football development programmes in other nations where football facilities and funding were lacking.’
However, The Mail on Sunday has seen a copy of FIFA’s official bid guidelines and rules for the 2018 and 2022 events, and no such requirement is mentioned.
The FFA spokesman added: ‘Under FFA’s International Football Development programme, a grant was made to fund preliminary design and feasibility work on a CONCACAF Centre of Excellence in Trinidad. The funds were paid to a CONCACAF bank account in 2010 and the programme was documented in FFA’s World Cup Bid reports, which were in turn subject to Australian Government oversight.’
The Mail on Sunday has seen the official FFA World Cup report, submitted at the end of the process, and the money paid to the account controlled by Warner is not mentioned.
The FFA spokesman also said: ‘Subsequently, FFA was informed in early 2013 by CONCACAF of allegations that the funds had been misappropriated. FFA assisted CONCACAF in its inquiry into the matter... It’s regrettable that the funds provided to CONCACAF were not used in the way in which they were intended.’
Garcia is expected to visit Australia in the coming days to meet people who worked on the country’s World Cup bid, having already met some of the team in meetings conducted outside Australia.
One source said Garcia hopes to meet Frank Lowy, the billionaire businessman who backed Australia’s bid.
Lowy has not responded to questions from The Mail on Sunday. There is no suggestion that Lowy was involved in the payment to Warner. The FFA declined to comment on whether bid staff will meet Garcia.
The new whistleblower allegations come at the end of a month in which FBI paperwork in the US suggested that Warner was paid more than a million US dollars by a company controlled by another senior FIFA executive, Qatar’s Mohamed Bin Hammam, after the Gulf state had been awarded the 2022 tournament in a shock vote. Bin Hammam and Warner have denied wrongdoing.
The whistleblower also alleges that money was paid for projects in Oceania and Africa on the understanding that FIFA ExCo members representing those areas would vote for Australia in exchange. Garcia is also looking into claims that Australia and Russia, who won the right to stage the 2018 tournament, attempted to set up a vote swap, contrary to FIFA’s bidding rules.
The FFA spokesperson declined to answer questions about Australia bid payments to projects in Oceania or elsewhere, and declined to respond to a question about alleged collusion with Russia.
It is an open secret that Qatar and Spain colluded to exchange votes among their backers for 2022 and 2018 respectively, despite that being against bidding rules. A FIFA investigation before the 2010 vote found there were not ‘sufficient grounds’ to conclude there was collusion but in February 2011 FIFA president Sepp Blatter admitted that there had been.
THE Garcia investigation is likely to provide extensive evidence of that collusion, as well as ‘voting incentives’ of cash paid, by various bidders, to projects linked to ExCo voters. Another whistleblower, from Qatar, is understood to have told Garcia that funding was promised to African ExCo members in exchange for supporting the Qatari bid.
Sources say Garcia is actively pursuing these lines of inquiry and ‘building a picture of a hugely flawed bidding process’.
Garcia was in Zurich two weeks ago seeking information from ExCo voters and one source said his ‘forthright’ questioning left at least one ExCo member, from South America, ‘fuming’ at suggestions of impropriety. ‘Garcia is seriously ruffling feathers,’ said the source.
More than one disgruntled ExCo member tried to gain support for a plan to have Garcia’s anti-corruption investigation axed. Reform-minded colleagues thwarted that and Garcia’s work goes on.
The Australian whistleblower has also told Garcia that another FIFA vice-president and ExCo member, Reynald Temarii of Tahiti, requested and was granted money for ‘sports development’ in Oceania. ‘In itself, that is not a bad cause,’ said the whistleblower.
‘But he [Temarii] also sought a further four million dollars (£2.2m) over three years, and in return it was always understood that if the Australia bid team did that Australia would have his vote. And that was absolutely a core element of [Australia’s] strategy.’
Australia’s bid team also had extensive dealing with Nigeria’s ExCo member, Amos Adamu, and Paraguay’s Nicolas Leoz, and Jamaican football was ‘allocated’ £1.4m. ‘No-one from Jamaica even had a vote, but we were there giving them 2.5m dollars with a clear understanding that it would affect Jack Warner’s vote,’ said the whistleblower.
Adamu and Temarii were both suspended from FIFA and then ousted for corruption before the vote even took place, while both Warner and Leoz have subsequently left under a cloud of corruption allegations.