MELBOURNE, May 29 (Reuters) - Australian police may investigate a payment of $500,000 by Football Federation Australia to Jack Warner after the former soccer powerbroker was arrested in a sweeping corruption probe launched by U.S. authorities this week.
Australia’s national soccer governing body claimed the payment was made as part of “mandatory” FIFA bidding criteria during the country’s failed bid for the 2022 World Cup but was misappropriated by Warner.
Bonita Mersiades, a former senior member of Australia’s bid team, and local lawmaker Nick Xenophon had written to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) asking them to investigate the payment, the AFP said.
“The AFP can confirm it has been contacted ... and asked to provide advice in relation to this matter,” the police force said in a short statement emailed to Reuters on Friday.
“The AFP will assess the letters and provide advice in due course.”
Football Federation Australia, whose senior management are in Zurich for the FIFA congress, was unavailable to provide comment.
The FFA has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in its World Cup bid and said the 2010 payment was intended to fund a feasibility study for a ‘centre of excellence’ project in the Caribbean.
A 2013 probe by CONCACAF said the payment was misappropriated by Warner, a former president the regional soccer governing body for North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
Warner resigned from his soccer roles in 2011 amid corruption allegations but was among more than a dozen soccer, media and promotions officials indicted by U.S. authorities this week.
The U.S. Justice Department has alleged he solicited $10 million in bribes from the South African government to host the 2010 World Cup. Warner denied the allegations and was released on bail after a court appearance in Port of Spain.
The FFA said last year that it had cooperated with Michael Garcia, FIFA’s appointed investigator into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids, regarding the payment and reported it to the Australian government.
Australia’s sports ministry referred queries about the bid to the FFA.
Mersiades left Australia’s bid team a year before the World Cup vote, later citing personal differences and discomfort with the team’s strategy of using highly-paid consultants to influence FIFA members.
She was one of two prominent whistleblowers who cooperated with Garcia, but her evidence was largely discredited in a summary of his investigation released by FIFA’s ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert last year.
Senator Xenophon, a long-time critic of FIFA and Australia’s failed bid, urged the federal government to denounce FIFA president Sepp Blatter and request a fresh vote for the 2022 World Cup.
Eckert’s summary found some wrongdoing committed by teams bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups but not enough to re-open the bidding process.
Garcia subsequently quit his role as investigator, saying his report had been misrepresented. ($1 = 1.3060 Australian dollars) (Editing by Greg Stutchbury)