Football: FIFA's finances in the spotlight

Football: FIFA's finances in the spotlight

PARIS- The corruption scandal engulfing FIFA raises troubling questions about how its auditors failed to sound the alarm over the alleged systematic payment of millions of dollars in bribes.

Accusations of massive fraud at the heart of football since the arrest of seven FIFA officials in Zurich last week places the firm controlling the embattled organisation's finances, accountancy giants KPMG, under scrutiny.

"If the auditors can't spot millions of euros going astray, what can they do?" asked Prem Sikka, professor at the UK's Essex University Business School.

"The FIFA scandal clearly shows that there's been a weakness in the control of the federation," Sikka said.

"Those reports should be publicly published.

"If there is nothing to hide, please show us your files," the accounting expert said.

Sikka believes the scale of the scandal calls for the European Union to get involved.

"The EU must act to force FIFA to open up the files." Sikka's unease at KPMG's handling of FIFA's finances was echoed by another expert, Christophe Lepetit, a sports economist at the Centre of the Law and Economics of Sport (CDES) attached to Limoges University in southwestern France.

"They are a well-established firm with a serious reputation, but in light of the growing revelations we have the right to ask questions," Lepetit said of KPMG's role.

Did FIFA's accountants have the means to spot any fraudulent movement of cash?

According to Lepetit the firm "had to judge the sincerity of FIFA's accounts, but perhaps they didn't want to go any further, believing that wasn't their mission".

KPMG, contacted by AFP, said it could not elaborate on its functions with football's ruling authority.

"As FIFA's statutory auditor we are bound to secrecy and must refrain from making any comment," the firm said.

Emile Carr of NGO Transparency International questioned how KPMG could have failed to pick up on any warning signs.

"Auditors carry out their work on a random or statistical sampling basis. Auditors do not carry out a one hundred percent test...." It would therefore have been understandable if some questionable transactions were missed, he said.

"But where done properly (they) must have come across a few over the years," he added.

'Everything is secret'

For Vincent Chaudel, of accountants Kurt Salmon, however, KPMG would not have been in a position to spot underhand payments.

"When you are talking about buying votes to secure the World Cup, the money doesn't pass by FIFA. It's the countries involved which have directly made payments to individuals," Chaudel pointed out.

As for cash handed over in the guise of "development projects" these are he said "transferred in the form of invoices".

"If they are inflated and if there are diversions at the local level then that doesn't show up in the accounts," he added.

The nature and size of FIFA, with a gigantic $5.7 billion turnover for the period 2011-2014, does not lend itself to transparency, some analysts claim.

As a non-profit making organisation made up of 209 football federations FIFA "doesn't come under such severe scrutiny as a public or private enterprise with stock exchange listing" explained Carr.

Lepetit meanwhile suggested those individuals implicated (in corruption) "perhaps managed to play on the opaqueness of the Swiss (financial) system".

"It's more complicated to control the movement of money in an association based in Switzerland than one based in New York," he said.

Under fire from critics, Switzerland recently approved a raft of measures to reinforce the control of international sporting associations on its territory.

"The key question is one of transparency," Sikka concluded. He urged KPMG to "make public" its audits to shed light on how FIFA's finances were controlled.

"We don't know what questions were asked, what answers were obtained. Everything is secret."

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