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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Fifa under pressure after report sets out Qatar bribes

Campaign launched to hold Fifa to account for 'illegitimate' Russian and Qatari World Cup bids

Fifa president Sepp Blatter, right, talks with Fifa secretary general Jerome Valcke during a news conference in 2014. EPA/MOHAMED MESSARA
Fifa president Sepp Blatter, right, talks with Fifa secretary general Jerome Valcke during a news conference in 2014. EPA/MOHAMED MESSARA

A dossier said to list billions of dollars in bribery and suspect deals surrounding Qatar’s bid for the 2022 Fifa World Cup is to reveal financial payments made into the account of a former Fifa official.

The payment of Dh17.6 million into the Swiss bank account of Julio Grondona, the former head of the Argentina Football Association and Fifa's senior vice-president – once only behind disgraced President Sepp Blatter in the global football body's pecking order – is just one of multiple transactions set out by a new report to launch The Foundation for Sports Integrity at a conference in London later this week.

A five-year investigation by America's FBI culminated in the arrest of seven top Fifa officials in Switzerland in 2015. Subsequent trials heard the extent of corruption allegations against Mr Grondona and others.

A New York court hearing late last year heard that Mr Grondona, who died of a heart attack in 2014 aged 82, was involved in a feud with two other South American members of the Fifa council after taking bribes. "Ricardo Teixeria, Nicholas Leoz and Julio Grondona received money in relation to the election of Qatar as the venue for the 2022 World Cup," Alejandro Burzaco, an Argentinian witness, told the trial.

The Foundation charges that Qatar also used a Dh5.36 billion Qatar Airways purchase with Airbus, a LNG deal with Thailand and redeemed a Dh245 million debt held by the Argentinian FA to pave the way for its victory in the race to secure the tournament in 2010.

The Foundation's launch event seeks to intensify pressure on the football government body Fifa over its decision to award both the 2018 tournament, which starts next month, to Russia and 2022 to Qatar.

While sources close to the Foundation conceded it was too late to change the venue this summer, Fifa could still be held accountable for both the flawed bidding process and the serious issues surrounding Qatar's build-up to the football tournament.

"We want discussions on the situation as it stands with Fifa regarding the bidding process past, present and future to ensure it is fit for purpose," the source close to the Foundation said. "While it is late in the day regarding Russia, we want to expose concerns over bidding and staging the tournaments."

Damian Collins, the high-profile chairman of the culture and sport committee in Britain's parliament, Jerome Champagne, a former Fifa presidential candidate, and Benita Mersiades, the Fifa whistleblower, will all take part in the conference on Thursday.

The Foundation has been established by sports entrepreneur turned anti-doping campaigner Jaimie Fuller, who also helped to establish the New Fifa Now social media campaign. That was set up after Mr Fuller travelled to Qatar to investigate reports about abuses within the World Cup construction projects.

"Three years ago, I went to Doha to look at what all the fuss was about for myself when it came to workers' conditions in Qatar," he said in March. "I had heard all the tales. But nothing prepares you for seeing it for yourself. It was worse than I imagined."

Problems surrounding Qatar's World Cup do not stop at the campaign to win staging rights. The report highlights the country's failure to deliver the promised "revolutionary air-cooling systems" within its stadium plans and the associated health risks to athletes. It also claims Fifa has been complicit with efforts to play down the concerns over the "modern-day slavery" prevalent in construction projects.

The Australian businessman has previously explained his campaigns as a quest for transparency across sport. “The bottom line is that if the people in charge of sport are only interested in their own personal power games and money, then all the other great [sporting] stuff doesn’t happen. There is an integral link between the two that binds them,” Mr Fuller the founder of the brand Skins, told an interviewer in 2016.

Fifa responded to a request for comment on the dossier from The National, making reference to the Garcia report into corruption into the organisation. That report mentions Mr Grondona on 359 separate instances and examines the allegations of kickbacks from Qatar he faced before his death. It does not make mention of the specifics highlighted by the Foundation.

The organisation, based in Switzerland, launched a new complaints procedure for activists and journalists attempting to cover the World Cup on Tuesday. The procedure is centred around a website to log problems. A statement said hosts would be obliged to give undertakings for unhindered access but not until the 2026 World Cup.