Anti-corruption Summit — [Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:02 am on 3 May 2016.

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Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Conservative, Folkestone and Hythe 10:02, 3 May 2016

This is a massive topic that will provoke a huge amount of interest today and in Parliament next week. I want to confine my remarks to corruption in global sport, which has been one of the major global corruption issues that we have debated and confronted over the past few years. I have been involved in this area through my work on the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport and as co-founder of the New FIFA Now group, which has campaigned alongside excellent organisations that care about the integrity of sport, such as Transparency International UK, for greater openness and transparency in the way global sports bodies are run, and in particular for reform of major organisations such as FIFA.

On the FIFA corruption scandal, I recall the exact words issued by the US Department of Justice in its indictment against FIFA, published last year. It said that corruption at FIFA was

“rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted”.

The scale of the investigation so far and the number of arrests and indictments against senior officials in FIFA underline the breadth, and what will come in time to be seen as the depth, of corruption within that global sporting body.

As with other areas of corporate corruption, the causes of corruption within sports organisations are reasonably clear and simple to understand. Corruption in sport is an important issue, and it is not only a question of the integrity of sporting competitions and the people who take part in them. That is important in its own right, but we have to recognise that serious criminal elements have used the opportunities that sport presents to move money all around the world, be it through laundering money through the football transfer system or people acquiring stakes and interests in clubs before seeking to hide their identity behind shell companies held overseas. That has been a major problem for a number of years, and the major corruption scandal at FIFA and in other sports has brought it to the forefront.

The reasons why corruption occurs are relatively easy to understand when there are organisations with poor internal governance, led by a group of people who are not really accountable to anyone else and who base themselves in hard-to-reach places, with little scrutiny of the way they use their money and power. If we look at the breadth of allegations of corruption against FIFA officials, they have largely been about people using the organisation’s resources to enrich themselves by taking a cut of contracts, broadcasting rights and marketing rights, or by using their power and wealth to buy the votes of other people in order to secure positions of prominence for themselves and their friends and even to determine where the World cup final is played.

There is not only a lack of transparency within FIFA and how it uses its resources; there is also a lack of any real opportunity for people within the organisation who have a concern to blow the whistle. There is nowhere for them to go, because they are largely making their complaints to the people who control the organisation and who, on the whole, are not that interested in those complaints.

During the FIFA scandal in 2011, David Triesman, a former Foreign Office Minister and the former chairman of the Football Association, who had been intimately involved in leading England’s bid to host the World cup championships in the process leading up to the voting for where the tournament should be played in 2010, used parliamentary privilege to lay before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee allegations of corruption against senior football officials such as Jack Warner, Ricardo Teixeira and Nicolas Leoz, suggesting that they had solicited bribes. Lord Triesman claimed that Jack Warner had asked the FA to pay him a sum of money to secure the rights to show World cup football matches in major stadiums in Haiti to people who had been affected by a recent earthquake. It transpired that Jack Warner was asking for payments from the FA for rights he already owned in an attempt to solicit money for himself personally, with the understanding that if he received that money, he might vote for England to win the right to host the World cup.

That is an example of information we have received. In the case of Lord Triesman’s allegations, which were dismissed at the time by FIFA and not taken seriously enough, the people he alleged were guilty of being involved in corrupt practices have subsequently been indicted by the FBI as part of its investigation. That poses the question: why did the Serious Fraud Office not do more at the time to investigate thoroughly the allegations that Lord Triesman put into the public domain? Are the resources available to ensure that such investigations can take place? Could more be done to reach out to other law enforcement agencies around the world in order to share intelligence and information where a suggestion of wrongdoing is put before the offices in this country?

Sharing of information and international co-operation is important. While it may well be more appropriate for a different international or national authority to take the lead in an investigation, we can still play a very important role in following up on it. I am concerned that there have been occasions in the past when whistleblowers have come forward with information but there has not been follow-through or action on it, and years have been lost that could have been spent going after the wrongdoers and taking a stand against them.

I want to use this opportunity to raise an example that relates to an allegation that was made in the course of the recent FIFA presidential elections but could not be discussed in public because of the action of the lawyers representing Sheikh Salman of Bahrain, who was a candidate for the FIFA presidency. This is an important illustration of the sort of case that needs to be discussed publicly and examined carefully by people who care about issues of corruption. There was a suggestion that Sheikh Salman had colluded with Sheikh Ahmad, who is head of the Olympic Council of Asia and a member of the FIFA executive committee and the International Olympic Committee, so that Sheikh Ahmad could use his financial position as head of the OCA to channel money to football associations in Asia in order to persuade them to vote for Sheikh Salman in the 2013 elections for the presidency of the Asian Football Confederation.

I would like to run through an exchange of emails between the various parties involved, to give an example of the sort of case that should be followed through and examined more closely. In this case, the Football Federation of the Kyrgyz Republic was in email contact with the Olympic Council of Asia. Sheikh Ahmad, the Kuwaiti head of the OCA since 1991, is a sporting kingmaker and a key powerbroker in Asia who is a close friend and associate of Sheikh Salman. The FFKR voted for Sheikh Salman in the AFC election on 2 May 2013, which he won by a landslide. On 26 April 2013, the FFKR’s executive director, Dastan Konokbaev, wrote to the private email address of the OCA’s IT manager, Amer Elalami, with details of flights that the FFKR’s delegation would be taking to and from Kuala Lumpur for the AFC vote. Addressing him as “Brother”, he listed the flights he would be taking with the president, Semetei Sultanov, and the vice-president of the organisation. On the previous day, he had sent an email with his security mobile number, saying,

“it is available any time”,

and wrote,

“this is my private email”.

Mr Elalami replied from his personal account with the signature,

“IT Manager, Olympic Council of Asia”,

and his own phone number. He wrote:

“Noted brother, will keep in touch, just let me know if required any assistance from our side”.

On 29 April 2013, three days before the vote, Mr Konokbaev emailed Mr Elalami at his private email address listing 53 projects and requesting the OCA’s financial support. The subject heading of the email was “About support for Kyrgyzstan football”. These projects included training camps, friendly matches, more than 300 air fares and the construction of a sports centre. The total value of the projects amounted to millions of pounds.

There seems to be no legitimate reason for the FFKR, which is part of FIFA, to seek funding from the OCA. The OCA’s IT manager had no grant-giving role and was using his private email address rather than his official one. Despite this, Mr Konokbaev wrote:

“Brother, I hope you are well! I would like to acquaint you with our plans for 2013 (here included preparatory cycle Kyrgyzstan’s National Team) and indicate” where you need support. He continued:

“We have previously discussed, and even decide[d] many issues”.

Mr Elalami forwarded the email on to the OCA’s director general, a former pilot he referred to as “captain”. Mr Al-Musallam is Sheikh Ahmad’s right-hand man and the pair work closely together. Mr Elalami appears to have believed that Mr Al-Musallam was already aware of this request for funds, writing:

“Did you receive this email from Dastan?”,

and seeking advice on how to respond. He continued:

“They send a financial support till March next year, what I should reply. Please advise”.

The emails also show that Sheikh Ahmad, Mr Al-Musallam and Mr Elalami were among a 19-strong OCA delegation in Kuala Lumpur for the vote. Bizarrely, the OCA did not have accreditation from the AFC. Instead, it was accredited to football associations.

In a document headed “list of delegates—KL”, which was circulated among OCA officials, Mr Elalami’s name appeared alongside “KYR”, which is believed to mean Kyrgyzstan, in the “accreditation” column. Mr Elalami is a Kuwaiti who had no formal association with the FFKR. In 2009, the OCA had requested accreditation for the AFC Congress but, after being refused this, set up offices nearby and hosted a reception for 30 or so football associations on the day before a vote in which Sheikh Salman unsuccessfully stood for a position on FIFA’s executive committee. On 6 May, the day after flying back from the 2013 vote, the FFKR’s executive director sent a further email to Mr Elalami reminding him of the projects that needed funding. He said:

“Earlier, I sent you” an email

“describing our needs and as you can see, there are issues that need to be addressed in the next few days [now] that all went according to plan”.

Beneath the projects he wrote:

“Which way you help? How much? Period of time?”

In some cases, he asked how the FFKR would be paid—“by bank transfer” or “in Kuwait”.

These issues warrant further investigation. In this case there is no direct proof that money changed hands between the OCA and this particular football association, but it is curious and suggests that there could be people who abuse their position in global sport to support each other, reward each other and share money between each other as a currency to secure political support. But where does anyone go with such allegations? Where can a whistleblower turn to ensure the proper investigation of such allegations? This has been at the heart of many corruption issues in sport.

Looking to the anti-corruption summit particularly, how can we ensure a gold standard for organisations operating in the sporting world to ensure they comply with high standards in auditing the way their money is used? There are questions for big global accountancy firms such as KPMG, which has audited FIFA’s accounts for many years. Despite its auditing of those accounts, it was possible for Sepp Blatter to pay Michel Platini 2 million Swiss francs, although that money was not accounted for in FIFA’s accounts. How can that be possible? How can major companies that work with global organisations sign off accounts if there concerns about them? What sort of faith can we have in that auditing process?

What sort of auditing is there? What sort of transparency is there in the way money and resources are used, and what sort of enforcement can be taken when there is a problem? Should there be a green light system for global organisations to say there are concerns about the lack of transparency in the organisation? Other commercial partners, whether sponsors or broadcasters that work with those organisations, should be mindful of those concerns when transacting with that organisation or seeking to do business with them.

Do we need some form of specialist unit in the National Crime Agency to look at sports corruption? There is a real problem with a lack of investigators working in this area. The Select Committee recently took evidence from the Tennis Integrity Unit, which has just two investigators looking at problems, largely involving gambling, and allegations of match fixing in tennis. I believe that FIFA had four people in its investigation unit. The UK’s Anti-Doping Agency has one person in its investigation unit.

Do we need greater resources for work across different sports and based in the NCA that can look at allegations of corruption in sport and act on them? Perhaps we need a unit of four or five officers working in the NCA and dedicated to looking at sports corruption, working with global sports governing bodies, having a direct relationship with their own internal integrity units and seeking to co-operate with the FBI and other investigatory bodies around the world. That additional resource would be welcome—