Serious Fraud Office investigating 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids

Allegations of money-laundering offences involving payment made to Jack Warner

The Serious Fraud Office has confirmed it is looking into potential money laundering offences in the UK related to Fifa corruption.

David Green, the director of the SFO, said that although the Bribery Act had been introduced too late to catch any offences committed during bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, it was actively reviewing recent information related to possible money laundering.

“We are still examining issues around possible money laundering,” said Green, appearing before the Culture, Media and Sport select committee. “There are several aspects to it and some new information has come to us quite recently.”

He also confirmed that one of the transactions under scrutiny was a $462,000 payment to the disgraced former Fifa vice-president Jack Warner from the Australia 2022 bid committee that may have been routed through London.


“I cannot confirm the assertion 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.

“There are outstanding matters which touch upon money laundering. There are a number of matters we are still looking at and digging into.”

Under tough questioning from MPs over why the SFO had not been more aggressive in pursuing Fifa corruption, Green said that information received so far did not meet the required bar to begin a criminal investigation.

He said that without a criminal investigation it could not request legal assistance from other jurisdictions.

The Swiss attorney general, Michael Lauber, has expressed surprise that other international jurisdictions had not requested evidence or provided assistance.

But Green said informal requests to the Swiss prosecutor to provide the controversial Garcia report into the 2018/22 bidding process had been rebuffed.

Likewise, Green said that a request to the US Department of Justice to analyse the tapes from undercover meetings between the former Fifa executive Chuck Blazer and other football officials during the London 2012 Olympics had also been turned down because it related to an ongoing investigation.

And he said that although an alleged request for £2.5m from Warner to the former FA chairman Lord Triesman was “rotten conduct” his predecessor at the SFO had been unable to investigate.

Green said the SFO “can’t touch Fifa with the Bribery Act as things stand” and said it made more sense to allow the Swiss and US investigations to continue unhindered.

However, the SFO confirmed it had a team of five people that had been analysing 1,687 documents ranging from one to 75 pages supplied by the English Football Association that related to its failed 2018 bid.

Damian Collins, the Tory MP who sits on the committee and is a key player in the Fifa reform movement NewFifaNow, accused the SFO of “standing on the sidelines in one of the biggest fraudulent stories the world has ever seen”.

But Green insisted “part of the investigation remained very much alive”. He added: “Don’t get the impression this is a closed book on a shelf at the SFO. We are getting new information in quite frequently.”

Also appearing before the committee, the former attorney general Lord Goldsmith called for more radical and wide-ranging reform to Fifa’s governance and culture than has been proposed so far.

Goldsmith, who sat on the Fifa reform task force that was set up in 2011 but ultimately dissolved amid frustration at the progress made, called for a strong external body that could oversee reform and hold the organisation to account. “There has been a deeply unsatisfactory culture in Fifa for many years,” he said.

He also criticised the “farce” surrounding the publication of Michael Garcia’s report, with the then head of the investigatory arm of the Fifa ethics committee resigning in fury at what he claimed was an unrepresentative summary of his findings. “People need to see that report so that people can see whether there is smoke or fire,” said Goldsmith.

Domenico Scala, the head of Fifa’s audit and compliance committee who will also oversee the election of a new president to replace Sepp Blatter in February next year, had been due to appear before the committee but pulled out a fortnight ago. On Wednesday, the FA chairman, Greg Dyke, is expected to be asked about his position on the looming election and the wisdom of backing Michel Platini for the role before withdrawing support after he was suspended for 90 days.

(Guardian service)