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House of Commons Hansard
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FIFA World Cup Bids (Serious Fraud Office)
01 December 2014
Volume 589

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Damian Hinds.)

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I have called this debate after several weeks in which FIFA, the governing body of world football, has once again been dragged through the mud. FIFA stumbles from one crisis to another, dogged by persistent allegations of bribery and corruption, involving some of its most senior officials, and unable to shake off the perception that it is a rotten organisation that is not fit to lead the world’s most popular game. It appears that some very ugly people have control of a beautiful game, and I believe that it is time that FIFA was subject to the full force of international law, not just left to investigate itself.

At the heart of the current crisis lie the persistent claims of bribery and corruption surrounding the bidding process to host the World cup tournaments in 2018 and 2022. These are serious allegations—that millions of dollars were paid by bidding nations in bribes to members of the FIFA executive committee in return for their votes. These are not just private matters for the FIFA family, as its president, Sepp Blatter, seems to want the world to believe. They are potentially criminal matters, which are of interest to law enforcement agencies around the world. For several years the FBI has been running its own inquiry into the bidding process, investigating whether corrupt payments were made to officials in return for their votes using servers and payment systems based in the jurisdiction of the United States of America.

In response to the widespread allegations that have been made, FIFA—through its ethics committee—launched its own investigation, led by the American attorney Michael Garcia. We were all promised that the process would get to the truth, that it would be transparent and that it would be independent from FIFA, but that has been far from the reality. FIFA has investigated itself, and has found itself to be not guilty. It set up a process which was always guaranteed to fail, and which is at the heart of my reason for initiating this debate. It was always going to fail because FIFA has no legal powers to pursue an investigation even against people within the organisation, let alone people outside it. It does not have the judicial powers that would enable it to request access to private correspondence and bank records. In fact, it could only request evidence that people were willing to supply.

According to information published in the most recent edition of The Sunday Times, it was also clear that FIFA could offer no anonymity or protection from prosecution to people who complied with its requests and took part in the investigation. Indeed, members of the England bid team told the newspaper that they had felt able legally only to supply information for which FIFA asked, and had not felt able to volunteer information that would otherwise have been helpful.

We know that the Russians told FIFA that all the computers containing e-mails and documents relating to their bid had been destroyed, and that they therefore could not comply with its request for information. As for the Qatar bid, we know that FIFA’s investigation report highlighted its concern about the role of consultants in that campaign, but stated that as those consultants had no official role in football, it had no jurisdiction to pursue them.

What angered me, and angered many football fans around the world, was the fact that, instead of acknowledging the limitations of its own inquiry, FIFA pretended that this was the last word, that there was nothing more to be said, that the World cups would go ahead in Russia in 2018 and in Qatar in 2022, and that no action would be taken against the bidding nations—although there remained the option of taking action against individuals. FIFA seems to pursue a line which involves corporate innocence, but individual potential guilt that warrants further investigation.

The world responded with alarm to the results of Michael Garcia’s inquiry. Of course, FIFA has banned the publication of the full Garcia report. Sepp Blatter is sitting on it personally, and does not want the full 430 pages ever to see the light of day. However, Hans-Joachim Eckert, chairman of the FIFA ethics committee, published a 43-page summary of the report, which Michael Garcia said contained

“numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations”.

FIFA has now realised that people will not buy its white-wash, and has handed over its own investigation of the allegations of bribery and corruption surrounding the World cup bidding process to the Swiss authorities and the Swiss Attorney-General, believing, it said, that the report contained evidence of “unlawful” activity. FIFA has also stated that other “relevant national investigatory authorities” have a responsibility to investigate the allegations of bribery and corruption in the World cup bidding process.

Over the past few weeks I have written to the director of the Serious Fraud Office, David Green, asking him whether the SFO—as one of the '”relevant national investigatory authorities” described by FIFA—would look into these matters. He has assured me that the SFO has been monitoring the situation closely, and that it would act if it believed that it had the jurisdiction to do so. Furthermore, in a letter to me dated 25 November 2014, Alun Milford, the SFO’s general counsel, wrote that

“every reasonable line of inquiry, including working closely with appropriate overseas authorities, is being pursued to ascertain whether the director has grounds to open an investigation.”

I want to ask the Solicitor-General a number of questions. Can he confirm the following: first, that the Serious Fraud Office has entered into a process to determine whether or not it will open an inquiry or criminal investigation; secondly, whether the SFO has received a request for mutual legal assistance from other bodies, including the FBI; thirdly, whether the SFO has approached the FBI and the Swiss authorities regarding their investigations into FIFA; and fourthly, whether the SFO has, or might reasonably expect to, make a request to the Swiss authorities to view the Garcia report produced by the FIFA ethics committee?

The SFO has the jurisdiction to investigate events involving UK companies and citizens around the world, and under the Bribery Act 2010 has far-reaching powers to investigate any organisation that has commercial operations within the UK. I would be grateful if the Solicitor-General could confirm that it does indeed enjoy those powers and that there is a substantial difference between the powers that existed before the Bribery Act was passed by Parliament and the situation now.

A series of events falls within the jurisdiction of the SFO to investigate. We know from reports that the FBI has been working with the former FIFA official Chuck Blazer, that he has held meetings on behalf of the FBI where he has sought information from other football executives and other people he has met, and that he conducted some of these meetings, where he was under FBI surveillance, in London during the London Olympic games. Those meetings would be under the jurisdiction of the SFO and with the knowledge of the National Crime Agency, as is normal practice.

We know from the reports published in The Sunday Times this weekend that the England bid team gathered intelligence from around the world on not just the activities of members of the FIFA executive committee, but the World cup bids being prepared by other nations. It was alleged in these reports that this information contained intelligence passed through the British diplomatic network and intelligence services back to the FA. This information has never been fully published.

I served on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee in 2011 when we conducted a brief inquiry into the FIFA bidding process and invited people to submit evidence. The FA had the chance to respond at that time and did not do so. We took evidence from Lord Triesman, where he laid out substantial allegations against members of the FIFA executive committee, in his view seeking bribes in return for their votes. The FA launched its own inquiry into that and made no reference at any time to this intelligence information that it had gathered. I certainly believe that that information should be made available to the SFO to support its investigations and inquiries and to help it determine whether it can open a criminal investigation.

We know from Lord Triesman’s evidence that there were allegations against key FIFA executive committee members, including that Jack Warner—who is a senior member of FIFA, and who became embroiled in a scandal with Mohamed bin Hammam around the attempt to rig, as people saw it, the presidential elections—was at the heart of the substantial allegations made against the Qatar bid and that he received from Mohamed bin Hammam large payments that were intended both for himself and to be channelled to other FIFA executives. That is the substance and meat of the serious allegations that were made, and we know he had meetings with England officials during that bid process, including Lord Triesman, who states that Jack Warner effectively asked him for payment to secure rights to broadcast football matches in the Caribbean that Jack Warner already owned.

We heard that UK companies were involved in the Qatar bid and that PR executives, including Mike Lee of Vero Communications, worked closely with the bid process. We also know that other executives and companies were involved, such as Nigel Rushman and Rushmans, which offered a specialist service. It helps its clients bid for major global events. On its website it states that it was cheering Qatar all the way in 2010—and there are other reports that it still works closely with Qatar—and that its services to clients boast

“insightful people with enormous amounts of data and knowledge at their finger tips. Much of this sports event bidding information is not available elsewhere.”

If it has relevant information related to the FIFA World cup bids, perhaps it would be interested in sharing some of that with the SFO. There is also the role played by people like Peter Hargitay from ECN consulting group, who made millions from its consultancy work for the Australian 2022 World cup bid, and had previously asked for over £4 million to do the same for the England 2018 bid.

There is also the role of the Qatar bid whistleblower Phaedra Almajid, who provided information to The Sunday Times newspaper regarding the Qatar bid for the FIFA World cup, alleging that Mohamed bin Hammam, the former vice-president of FIFA, had established a network to support the payment of FIFA officials, to secure their votes for Qatar in the World cup bidding process. Phaedra Almajid gave evidence to Michael Garcia’s inquiry into this matter, including the reason why she had later retracted the evidence that she had first produced for the UK media as a whistleblower. Despite being promised anonymity by Michael Garcia, she was clearly identified in the summary of his report produced by Hans-Joachim Eckert. She feels that there has been a deliberate attempt to discredit her, and she has given me a statement to support that. In it, she discusses for the first time the pressure she was placed under to withdraw her allegations.

That statement is relevant to the debate and to the jurisdiction of the Serious Fraud Office to investigate these matters, and I should like to share part of it with the House. She says:

“I never set out to be a whistleblower. I have provided the information about what I witnessed as part of the Qatari bid in confidence, because I believe the World Cup bids should be won honestly. I continue to support an honestly awarded World Cup bid for the Middle East. The most publicised effort to discredit me relates to an affidavit I executed in July 2011. The facts surrounding that affidavit demonstrate that it was coerced and based on a promise that was never kept. I provided documents, emails, recordings and data to Mr Garcia showing the following facts:

In early June 2011, a senior official of the Qatari bid contacted me, urging me to recant information I had provided anonymously to the British media in late 2010 and early 2011. Initially, I refused to recant, as I knew what I had witnessed. I was then informed that a legal injunction had been issued against me in the State of Qatar in the amount of one million dollars for breach of my non-disclosure agreement. The Qatari official threatened to enforce the judgment against me internationally. I finally agreed to sign a recanting affidavit upon the Qatari official’s promise that I would receive in exchange a legal letter that they would not sue me. Their agreement to this deal is confirmed in numerous documents and recordings.

In early July 2011, a lawyer from a London law firm representing Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy came to Washington DC and presented an affidavit to me. I resisted signing it because it alleged that I had lied about what I had witnessed and altered documents, which I had not done. Finally, under threat of being sued and upon a promise that I would receive the legal letter, I agreed and signed the affidavit. I then requested my letter, but the Qatari officials changed the deal saying that, before I would receive it, I had to give media interviews about my affidavit, contrary to their promise of anonymity. After objecting, I gave those interviews, as the Qataris and their lawyer kept assuring me that I would receive the legal letter. Those assurances are recorded.

In September 2011, as I was continuing to demand my legal letter, three FBI agents came to my house unannounced. I had not contacted them. I told them all I knew about the Qatari bid, the threats against me, the affidavit and the Qatari refusal to give me the legal letter. At their request, I agreed to co-operate with them. In October 2011, at the FBI’s request, I spoke to a Qatari official who confirmed that there was a deal to give me the legal letter in exchange for the affidavit. The FBI agents recorded that conversation on their equipment. I continued to demand my letter from the Qataris and their lawyers. Finally, in October 2011, instead of sending the promised legal letter, the London lawyers for the Qataris sent me a letter accusing me of harassing them and threatening to sue me if I continued contacting them. I discontinued demanding my legal letter under that new threat of being sued by the Qataris’ lawyers.”

Ms Almajid does not name the London law firm in her statement, but I have been told that it was Olswang.

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way; I sought his permission beforehand to intervene on him, and I apologise for not being here at the beginning of his speech. He has outlined clearly the position that the whistleblower took in outlining what had been happening. Does he believe that it is now time for our Government to call on FIFA to give protection to whistleblowers, wherever they might be within that organisation, to ensure that they keep their jobs, despite what they have said, and that they are protected from prosecution?

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He makes a serious point. That is at the heart of my reason for raising this matter in the House tonight and for contacting the Serious Fraud Office about it.

What Phaedra Almajid’s story tells us is that she co-operated fully with Michael Garcia’s inquiry and feels that her evidence has not been treated seriously and that, if anything, FIFA sought to discredit her for coming forward and co-operating with its inquiry. It also demonstrates that the FIFA process offers no guarantees to whistleblowers—people coming forward with information—whereas if they approach the proper authorities in this country, such as the SFO, or the FBI in America, they could discuss in confidence serious matters of concern to them. That is why a proper investigation and inquiry led by international agencies, including the SFO, will be the only way to get to the truth, and to encourage whistleblowers and protect them in coming forward to share their information with us. I believe some of these whistleblowers have genuine grounds to be fearful of the consequences of coming forward.

Other individuals supported the network that Phaedra Almajid describes and supported Mr Mohamed bin Hammam in his work, and little has been understood or acknowledged about them, and certainly not fully investigated. They include Najeeb Chirakal, who was suspended from football by FIFA in 2012 for failing to co-operate with its investigation into bin Hammam; Amadou Diallo, who worked for FIFA’s Goal Bureau for six years and was later alleged to be involved in bribing African football officials on behalf of the Qatar bid; Mohamed al-Mehshadi, a former FIFA Goal Bureau chairman and an insider who accompanied bin Hammam to key meetings in 2010 in Cairo and Moscow connected with the World cup bids; and Rahif Alameh, who resigned in 2012, having been for more than 50 years the general secretary of the Lebanese football association, following years of allegations of bribery and corruption.

There is a huge list in press reports and documents of names of people and allegations of the roles they played in seeking to secure votes for money in the bidding process for the World cup, and I think we see a system that was corrupt. People have been asking whether it was the fault of individual nations bidding, but we see a total system that had been corrupted and by an organisation that people have no confidence in. In 2010, when the 22 members of the FIFA executive committee cast their votes, they were determining which countries should host the next two World cups. That was unprecedented, and people have their own ideas about the reasons for it. Since that time 18 of those 22 members have faced allegations of some sort or current investigations into their conduct and whether they were involved in some sort of scandal involving the way they cast their votes. Just less than a third of the 22—seven of them—have been forced out of football because of their actions and activities. They have been banned by FIFA and forced to stand down because of their involvement in practices that were not considered suitable for a member of the FIFA ethics committee. That includes people such as Jack Warner, Chuck Blazer and Mohamed bin Hammam.

When we consider that 18 of the 22 face some sort of questioning of their role, that seven out of the 22 have resigned and that Russia and Qatar, coincidentally, both won the right to host the World cup by winning margins of six votes, we see why many people would say that the weight of allegations is so great and the stink of corruption that has stayed around this process for more than three years now is so strong that we can have no confidence in that process and therefore no confidence in the decision to award the World cup to those host countries. Those host countries deserve to have these allegations brought out and the world of football deserves to know what happened. If the SFO or the FBI were able to investigate these matters and bring criminal charges against people involved in that process, it would be impossible to see how it could continue. My concern and the reason for raising this tonight, is that without the involvement of organisations such as the SFO and the FBI, which is already involved, it seems impossible that we will ever get to that truth. It is only external pressure that will lead FIFA to change, and we need to act together to save football from FIFA.

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It is a pleasure to respond to the debate called by my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins), and I congratulate him on his terrier-like tenaciousness in pursuit of this matter. It is a serious matter because football—the beautiful game—has occupied the lives and memories of millions of us. A lot of us, as children and young people, looked forward to the World cup, which came round every four years, with great enthusiasm. I must confess that rugby is my first love, but World cups very much form part of my memory. That shows why this is serious, because anything that calls into question the integrity of those responsible for administering the biggest tournament in the world has to be a matter of huge public interest, both here and abroad.

The issues that my hon. Friend raises tonight are clearly important. I have to say that it is not within my living memory that Wales has been in a World cup—1958 was the last occasion. None the less, it is right to say that I have had a fraternal interest in the prospects of the England team in all the World cups that I have watched over the years.

But seriously, tonight we are here to deal with the question of jurisdiction and the potential role of British prosecuting authorities, which could include the Serious Fraud Office. I say that because the SFO has criteria that allow it to become involved in the investigation and prosecution of serious fraud. It is not perhaps correct to make an assumption that if criminal offences were disclosed within the jurisdiction that it would indeed be the SFO that would be the investigating authority. My hon. Friend is right to couch this debate tonight in the terms that he has, because what is being alleged is potentially serious fraud. The question is the position of British prosecutorial authorities in relation to that conduct, wherever it was committed and at what time it was committed. I will deal in turn with the questions that he raises.

My hon. Friend has already referred to the fact that the SFO has been following closely the emerging allegations about the bidding process, and that the director of the SFO, David Green, is considering whether it is appropriate to open a UK-based investigation. It would not be right for me to go into the detail, but I can assure my hon. Friend and the House that the SFO is engaging with appropriate overseas authorities in this matter, and is seeking their co-operation in terms of the sharing of material that would allow the SFO to make an informed determination about whether there are reasonable grounds to investigate an alleged offence in this jurisdiction.

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Is the Solicitor-General able to say with which authority the SFO has been engaging?

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My hon. Friend has echoed some of the detailed questions that he has asked, and it would not be right for me either to confirm or deny the existence of any mutual legal assistance arrangements that may have been reached. That is an operational matter that is beyond my remit. I am afraid that I will have to disappoint him in that respect, but what I will say in response to his main question about the process is that the SFO will consider all information brought to its attention, and that includes information from any alleged whistleblowers. The director may then decide whether it is appropriate to open an inquiry and whether he has jurisdiction to do so.

The director has demonstrated that the SFO is well prepared to take on difficult and high-profile cases. Currently, there are investigations into LIBOR manipulation, Tesco, Rolls-Royce, Barclays and GlaxoSmithKline, and the manipulation of foreign exchange rates. Those are all matters of great public interest that have a considerable international dimension. I recognise that the FIFA matter falls very much into that category, but the jurisdictional issues that are at the core of this debate are complex.

I am unable to comment on the allegations relating to the bidding processes for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World cups except to say that it is clearly in the interests of football generally for this matter to be resolved properly and for any wrongdoing to be fully investigated. That is why I fully support the move by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport who has written to FIFA to ask for full disclosure of the Garcia report. FIFA has in the past asserted a commitment to be more transparent and accountable. Obviously, the best way to do that would be to release the full report. Members will be aware from media reports of the steps that FIFA has been taking in the past week or so and of the criminal complaint it has made to the Office of the Attorney General in Switzerland.

As I have said, the jurisdictional issues are complex, but I shall dwell on them for a moment for my hon. Friend’s benefit. He has asked two questions, one about jurisdiction and another about the applicable law at the material time. FIFA’s headquarters, as we know, are in Switzerland, and it was in Zurich that the bidding process was concluded back in 2010. The FIFA executive committee comprises 28 employees originating from 27 different countries.

I hope that hon. Members will agree that the SFO’s jurisdiction over any allegations surrounding the bidding process is not clear cut. It is entirely possible that allegations surrounding the behaviour of one country during the bidding process might be best dealt with by the authorities in that country, or that allegations relating to the process as a whole might be best dealt with by another. I accept, however, that my hon. Friend has raised his concerns that the constitution of FIFA has the effect of making it difficult for law enforcement agencies in different jurisdictions to apply the law, but it is clear that FIFA’s constitution does not shield its members from criminal liability. The fact that the individual concerned might be a member of FIFA is irrelevant to the question of criminal jurisdiction, and when that is the case I would expect the law enforcement agencies in the jurisdictions concerned to work together to achieve the right results. If UK jurisdiction is engaged, the SFO will play its part.

If the SFO uncovers offending over which our criminal courts have jurisdiction and that meets the director’s criteria, the director will consider whether to open an investigation, whether it points to wrongdoing abroad or here. Relevant to the decision would be the issue of whether the SFO would be the best placed body ultimately to investigate and prosecute offences. As I have said, that depends very much on the facts. Other international partners might prove to be better placed to investigate and prosecute.

Let me deal with the applicable law. Bribery can be prosecuted under more than one piece of UK legislation, depending on the facts of the offence and its timing. The Bribery Act 2010 came into force on 1 July 2011. It has a more developed extraterritorial reach than its predecessors, but it is not retrospective and so applies only to offences committed wholly after that date. Actions before that date are covered by other legislation, which in the case of England and Wales law is the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906, and its jurisdictional requirements are not identical. Therefore, as I have said, the timing of each allegedly corrupt act and its location affects the ability of the SFO to investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute.

Those are just some of the factors relating to jurisdiction and applicable law that might be relevant to the director of the SFO’s decision on whether to commence an investigation in the UK. Depending on the particular facts, UK legislation might not cover the allegations.

Let me turn to the discretion of the director of the SFO. When determining whether to commence an investigation, the director must have “reasonable grounds” to suspect serious or complex fraud. Even when there are such grounds and the SFO case acceptance criteria are otherwise met, offences might still be able to be prosecuted in more than one jurisdiction. When that is the case, prosecutors will work together to determine where allegations are most suitably dealt with.

A number of issues must be considered. Prosecutors need first to identify where a prosecution can take place and how many relevant jurisdictions there are. There is usually a preliminary presumption that prosecutions should take place in the jurisdiction where most of the criminality occurred, but other factors need consideration, such as delays that might be caused, the likely whereabouts of witnesses, evidence and suspects and so on.

I know that my hon. Friend and other hon. Members are anxious that these matters should be brought to a head, as time is ticking on and 2018 is not as far away as it seemed in 2010. We have had the Brazil world cup and are now moving on to the next round. But I urge my hon. Friend and other hon. Members to be patient. As strong as his feelings are in relation to how FIFA has conduced itself, it is right—and an important feature of our criminal justice system—that decisions on whether the SFO is to proceed, and if so how, are for the director of the SFO. As I have said, his office is following developments very closely.

In any event, quite apart from its own processes, FIFA has made a referral to the Attorney-General’s office in Switzerland, and the Swiss are therefore already seized of some aspects of the matter. The SFO continues its own review and stands ready in principle to work alongside colleagues in Switzerland and around the world on this matter.

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Can my hon. and learned Friend confirm that it would be possible for the SFO to make a request to the Swiss authorities to see the Garcia report, and that the decision could be made without referral to FIFA?

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As I have said, issues of mutual legal assistance are very much operational matters for the SFO, but in principle such requests can be made. However, I think that it is right for us entirely to cede responsibility for those decisions to the director and to the SFO itself. The important principle here is the independence of prosecutorial authorities, as I know my hon. Friend understands very well.

I will draw my remarks to a close by once again thanking my hon. Friend for bringing this issue, which is not just of passing concern, but of huge public concern, to the attention of the House and for talking frankly about the position of whistleblowers. I reassure him that the prosecutorial authorities in this country have well established procedures and protocols for dealing with alleged whistleblowers, from whichever source they come, and that, as I have said, the SFO would properly consider any information brought to its attention that may be material to these matters.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.