Fifa Crisis: Swiss Investigators Probe Brazil V Argentina Friendly In Qatar

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THE Swiss criminal investigation into suspected irregularities and money-laundering over Fifa’s award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar is examining the money paid for the friendly Argentina played against Brazil in Qatar in November 2010, three weeks before the vote.

The Swiss attorney general’s office said it took possession of documents “on a cooperative basis” from the agency Kentaro, which organised the match, and Kentaro’s chief executive, Philipp Grothe, has said he spent hours with investigators providing information on where the money went.

The revelation that prosecutors are investigating that match has prompted speculation that the money paid was key to securing the votes of the Argentina and Brazil football association presidents, Julio Grondona and Ricardo Teixeira, who were then members of Fifa’s 22-man executive committee (exco), for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup.

In March 2012 Teixeira resigned from the exco and his 22-year presidency of the Brazil Football Confederation (CBF), shortly before a Swiss court document was published showing he had been paid millions of dollars in bribes in the late 1990s on Fifa’s sale of contracts to the marketing company ISL. He was last week indicted by prosecutors in Brazil on charges relating to tax evasion, money-laundering and fraud.

Grondona, who was appointed to head the Argentina Football Association (AFA) in 1979 by one of the leading army figures in the country’s military junta, joined the Fifa exco in 1988 and was the hugely powerful chair of the organisation’s finance committee until he died last year, aged 82.

It appears, however, that the Swiss prosecutors’ investigation into the match is not focusing on alleged improper payments from Qatar in return for votes. Fifa’s investigation into the match, by the former US prosecutor Michael Garcia, apparently did not find that to have been a concern.

Instead, the focus appeared to be on whether the agreed portion of $2m legitimately paid to Argentina, via an agency, World Eleven, as the cost of having the all-star national team play the friendly, did indeed reach the AFA. It is two companies in Buenos Aires, unnamed by prosecutors but not including World Eleven, that are understood to be under suspicion.

The Zurich-based financial services firm Swiss Mideast, with close links to Qatar, which organised the financing of the friendly on behalf of the Qatari construction firm GSSG, said it had made no payments outside the $8.6m it agreed with Kentaro as the total cost of the friendly.

Kentaro, which had the rights at the time to the Brazil national team’s famous “world tour” of friendly matches, is understood to have agreed to pay the AFA $2m for playing the match, which included a $400,000 commission to World Eleven in Buenos Aires. The fee to the CBF was less, given the match was part of the long-term contract for Brazil team friendlies; it was just under $1.5m, paid via the CBF’s agents, ISE Ltd.

Kentaro was introduced to the opportunity of GSSG financing a friendly in Doha by a company registered in Singapore, BCS Ltd, which was paid a $2m introduction fee. That huge-looking figure for an introduction is said to be in line with market rates in the lucrative world of international football, and the owners of BCS are known football business people whose involvement apparently did not raise concerns. Kentaro sold the TV rights and sponsorship for the game, paying some of the TV rights, just under $300,000, by agreement to GSSG, which retained ticket income in Doha.

Kentaro made its profit after the costs of organising the game itself and paying the travel and other costs of bringing the two teams and support staff over to Qatar. Martin Signer, a lawyer at Swiss Mideast, confirmed to the Guardian that he was involved in organising the match on behalf of GSSG, which had its name as the prime sponsor.

Signer said his firm researched the market rate for bringing to Doha the world-class Brazil and Argentina teams and their star players, and found it was in line with the costs presented by Kentaro.

Lionel Messi scored the only goal in the game, which was intended to showcase Doha’s ability to host prestigious international football just before Fifa voted on whether the country could host the 2022 World Cup. – The Irish Times

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