Exclusive: Private eyes add kick to FIFA corruption row

By Mark Hosenball

FIFA's ethics committee said earlier this month it had hired a former FBI chief to dig into allegations of corruption in the organization. But Reuters has learned that FIFA personalities accused of corruption, or who suspected others were corrupt, have also quietly hired private eyes in the past year.

Reuters has confirmed that Qatar 2022, the Persian Gulf organization which won a hotly contested competition to host the World Cup 11 years from now, hired Kroll, a corporate investigations firm, to investigate the "background, activities and reputation" of a former senior FIFA executive, as well as allegations of bid collusion.

Other targets of private investigators' inquiries have included journalists who have carried out some of the more sensational -- and damaging -- investigations of alleged FIFA intrigue and corruption.

A lawyer for Reynald Temarii, the Tahitian FIFA executive committee member who is serving a year-long ban from the federation for breaches of its ethics code, hired a private investigator to dig into the background of reporters from London's Sunday Times. That newspaper's allegations last year that Temarii was willing to trade his FIFA vote for cash led to his suspension.

The private eye's 24-page report, which Reuters has obtained, not only includes a detailed deconstruction -- and purported rebuttal -- of evidence gathered by Sunday Times journalists who posed as lobbying consultants, but also personal information about them. This includes home addresses, family information, foreign travel records, and details of previous investigative work, including other fake identities the reporters adopted for undercover "sting" operations.

The report, compiled by Paris-based private investigator Jean-Charles Brisard, is codenamed "Project Airtime." It also contains an extensive discussion and analysis of the Sunday Times "plot against M. Temarii" and alleges that an undercover video posted by the Sunday Times on its website last October was a "gross fabrication" containing "major cuts, edits and falsifications of the original video by the Sunday Times."

The report suggests that the Sunday Times investigation intended to influence the 2022 World Cup selection process, alleging that "the only two FIFA Committee members targeted by the plot had previously been identified by the Sunday Times as potential voters for the English bid in 2018."

Brisard declined to comment. But in an e-mail to Reuters, Geraldine Lesieur, the Paris lawyer who represented Temarii, strongly defended the use of a private investigator to investigate the Sunday Times story.

Our "investigation above all made it possible to demonstrate precisely how they created a veritable ... fabrication making it look like my client had said things he didn't say during the interview," Lesieur wrote. She pointed out Temarii had been cleared by the FIFA ethics committee of the most serious corruption allegations against him, though he had been suspended "for minor violations of ethics rules."

Sunday Times editor John Witherow said he was unaware of the investigator's report, and was not surprised lawyers working for private clients would hire private detectives. But Witherow said he was surprised that private eyes would be hired to investigate "journalists who are investigating matters of public interest."

Witherow said that despite attempts by FIFA to "rubbish" Sunday Times reporting on corruption claims, the paper has not backed away from its published reports.

Richard Caseby, the paper's managing editor, said: "The claims that The Sunday Times 'fabricated' its evidence against Reynald Temarii are utterly untrue. There is no evidence whatsoever to substantiate the claims. ... The Sunday Times investigation was clear, fair and accurate and we fully complied with FIFA's request for assistance in its investigation. We note that Mr Temarii is still under suspension by FIFA."

It is ironic that journalists at the Sunday Times, published by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., should be targeted: the newspaper's weekly tabloid stablemate, the News of the World, is currently embroiled in a major police investigation into allegations its journalists routinely hired private detectives to hack into voicemail, and possibly e-mail, of British politicians, celebrities, soccer stars, and members of the Royal family.

There is no suggestion Brisard used any illegal methods to compile his report, and the information in it appears to have been gathered from public sources. Two people at the newspaper said that some of the personal information, including the home address of a woman journalist who operated undercover, appeared to be inaccurate.

But Andrew Jennings, a British author and freelance journalist who has made a career out of exposing alleged scandals at FIFA and other international sporting bodies, says he believes private investigators used illegal methods to gather information on him.

Jennings told Reuters that before the FIFA uproar over the fact the 2022 World Cup went to Qatar, he ran across evidence that private investigators had managed to obtain some of his confidential telephone and financial records.

In "Foul," a book he published in 2007, Jennings reported that investigators from British Telecom had discovered that "day after day, from mid-morning to mid-evening in 2003, callers posing as me had assailed call-centres, attempting to obtain details of my international calls."

Jennings told Reuters he also had reason to believe that his bank accounts were accessed. He never got proof of who was responsible.

"PROJECT SELEUCIA"

Peter Hargitay, a former adviser to FIFA president Sepp Blatter, said he had not heard of FIFA executives, delegates or bidders hiring private detectives in the past.

FIFA said that in the wake of the resignation of long-time Caribbean soccer overlord Jack Warner from his position as a Vice President, Warner himself will no longer be subject to investigation by the Ethics Committee as "an accused party" but will still be "investigated as a witness."

FIFA said it will continue to examine Warner's role in the alleged bribery scandal, that Warner had pledged to cooperate with the investigation, and that he had not been offered any kind of "immunity." However, it did not answer an inquiry from Reuters as to whether the Freeh Group would refer any evidence it might uncover of criminal activity to police or judicial authorities.

Tages-Anzeiger, a German-language Swiss newspaper, reported last November that Qatar 2022, the Persian Gulf emirate's World Cup bid organization, had hired the prominent international investigations group Kroll.

The newspaper published part of a coversheet of a Kroll investigation codenamed "Project Seleucia" which said that "in support of the Qatar 2022 Bid Committee," Kroll had undertaken "in-depth source inquiries into the backgrounds, activities and reputations" of former FIFA secretary-general Michel Zen-Ruffinen and of a former FIFA executive committee member from Mali.

A source familiar with Kroll's work for the Qataris told Reuters the purpose of the firm's investigation was to help Qatar understand the "competitive environment" the emirate was facing in the 2022 World Cup competition. Among the issues Qatar wanted to learn more about was why Zen-Ruffinen had made allegations about possible bid collusion between Qatar and Spain.

In the end, once the existence of Kroll's "preliminary report" leaked to the Swiss paper, Qatar and the agency decided to close the investigation, said the source, who would not be named because of the sensitivity of the subject. A spokeswoman for Kroll said the firm would not comment on its clients; officials of the Qatar 2022 World Cup organization did not respond to e-mails requesting comment. (Editing by Mike Collett, Ossian Shine, Simon Robinson and Sara Ledwith)

(Created by Simon Robinson)

(This story was refiled to clarify allegations against CONCACAF officials)