LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s fraud office has received new information about money laundering as part of its investigation into soccer’s world governing body FIFA, the head of the agency said on Tuesday.
The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) said in May it was examining information relating to possible corruption at the governing body after the United States charged FIFA officials with fraud, bribery and money laundering.
Giving an update on the UK investigation to a committee of British lawmakers, SFO director David Green said the agency was still examining issues around possible money laundering but that he did not think it could examine FIFA under bribery laws.
“We are still examining issues around possible money laundering,” he said. “I can’t yet go into detail about that but there are several aspects to it and some new information has come to us quite recently.”
Green said that a 500,000 Australian dollar payment from the Australia 2022 World Cup bid committee to former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner in Trinidad and Tobago had been looked at, after claims that the money may have been routed through London.
“I cannot confirm that money went through London, it certainly started off in Sydney and appears to have ended up in Trinidad,” he said.
“It could be money laundering, yes. Whether the money came through London is important,” he added, noting the issue of jurisdiction.
“There are outstanding matters which touch upon money laundering. There are a number of matters we are still looking at,” said Green.
Green said the SFO was aware that American Chuck Blazer, who has been indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice and pleaded guilty to various corruption charges, had been in London in July and August 2012 and met with “members of the FIFA family”.
“In theory, that may have involved commission of offences in this country and I suppose there might be an argument to have, in certain circumstances, grabbed that piece of evidence and used it,” he said.
However, Green said that issue was difficult, given that the FBI and IRS were already investigating Blazer.
“There is no particular sense in trampling over someone else’s investigation just so that you look to be doing something,” said Green, who noted the U.S investigation was focussed on CONCACAF, the football confederation for North and Central America and the Caribbean.
“Their investigation is very much self-contained because it is around CONCACAF. It is very squarely within their jurisdiction,” he said.
Green earlier told the parliamentary hearing that he did not believe his organisation had found any evidence of a British link that would enable the SFO to investigate FIFA for bribery.
“My position would be that we cannot touch FIFA with the Bribery Act as things stand,” he said, adding there could be a line of liability against sponsors if it could be established they had failed to follow adequate procedures.
Green confirmed that in March the SFO received 1,687 documents from England’s Football Association and that a team of five staff examined them.
“There is a part of this picture that is still very much alive and remains so as a potential investigation,” he added.
FIFA is embroiled in the worst scandal of its 111-year history. Outgoing boss Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini, president of European soccer’s governing body UEFA, who had been favourite to succeed him, have both been suspended for 90 days pending a full investigation by FIFA’s Ethics Committee. They deny any wrongdoing.
Swiss authorities are also investigating the decision to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively, both of which also deny any wrongdoing.
Reporting by Kylie MacLellan and Kate Holton and Simon Evans; Editing by Stephen Addison and Hugh Lawson