Oceania Football Confederation thinks it has regained the confidence of Fifa after its former general secretary, Tai Nicholas, was banned from football for eight years – the third Oceania leading official to be banned for financial misconduct since 2015.
Nicholas, a law graduate from the University of Auckland, worked for the OFC for 20 years. He resigned in December 2017, citing personal reasons.
Fifa’s ethics committee banned him after finding him guilty of misappropriating Fifa funds linked to the construction of a new headquarters for the OFC in Auckland, and for accepting benefits in violation of the ethics code.
Nicholas was also fined 50,000 Swiss francs (NZ$76,140).
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OFC president Lambert Maltock, from Vanuatu, said new governance and internal policies had been approved since Nicholas’ departure.
“OFC is doing all it can to prevent the misuse of funding and has regained the full support of Fifa,” Maltock said in a statement.
The sanctions against Nicholas are the latest punishment for financial wrongdoing linked to the OFC’s $20 million building project in Auckland.
Former Fifa senior vice president David Chung was banned from football for six years in March. The Papua New Guinea official resigned as Oceania president after a Fifa-appointed audit found irregularities linked to awarding of contracts for its new headquarters.
Fifa has, since 2015, banned three leading OFC officials for a collective total of 22 years for financial misconduct. Chung’s predecessor as president, Tahiti’s Reynald Temarri, was banned for eight years in 2015
Fifa said in a statement that its ethics committee’s adjudicatory chamber found that Nicholas had breached part of the code of ethics dealing with bribery and corruption, and another dealing with offering and accepting gifts or other benefits.
The Associated Press reported last March that Chung was deputy to president Gianni Infantino as the longest-serving of Fifa’s eight vice presidents when he resigned in April during an investigation into construction of the new OFC Home of Football centre in St John’s Auckland.
Fifa said its ethics committee found Chung guilty of “having offered and accepted gifts” and “conflict of interest”.
Chung was fined 100,000 Swiss francs ($150,000).
The Papua New Guinea official resigned as Oceania president after a Fifa-appointed audit found irregularities linked to awarding of contracts for its headquarters in Auckland.
Fifa, which had given US$16.8m ($24m) to the OFC in 2017, froze funding to the 11-member regional body.
The New York Times reported in April 2018 that OFC members were planning to suspend Chung for a “gross dereliction of duty or an act of improper conduct” at the 2018 congress. The newspaper claimed the move to suspend Chung “followed details in a forensic audit conducted on behalf of Fifa by accountants from PwC, which raised the possibility of fraud and bribery in the construction project”.
The Times’ report said: “The audit found that Chung and Nicholas, without issuing a tender, had hired a company with no experience of the work required for the design of the project, which involved building offices, two soccer fields and other facilities in Auckland …”
“Investigators then found a series of close relationships between companies advising the O.F.C. on the project and picked to complete the project.” An executive summary of the PwC report stated all the companies were set up shortly before being awarded contracts, “with no track record of experience, and subcontracted their works to other companies.”
The Home of Football project, paid for by Fifa, was to be built in two stages. The first, which has been completed, includes two artificial football turfs, changing room facilities and flood lights.
A Stuff report in April 2018 revealed Fifa called in auditors after discovering the Home of Football project was $10m over budget.
Auckland councillor Desley Simpson, who was Ōrākei Local Board chairwoman during early negotiations with OFC, said in 2013 stage one of the project was estimated to cost $5.3m.
Simpson said in the 2018 Stuff report that Auckland Council figures supplied to her said OFC’s 2016 financial report had costs to date of $12.8m for stage one and $3.1m for stage two, giving a total of $15.9m.
Chung – who earned a $US300,000 ($460,000) salary as Fifa senior vice president – became OFC president in 2011 after Tahiti’s Reynald Temarri was suspended for breaking Fifa’s ethics and confidentiality codes. Temarri, who played for French first division club FC Nantes, was later banned for eight years for accepting €305,640 (NZ$465,000) towards his legal costs from Mohamed bin Hammam – one of the key backers of Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 cup.
Temarii, then the president of the Oceania Football Confederation, was originally found guilty of breaking confidentiality and loyalty rules by discussing the World Cup hosting contest with undercover reporters. He was banned for one year and barred from voting in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bid contest.
The Tahitian appealed, a move that ensured Oceania – which had been mandated to support Australia’s 2022 World Cup hosting bid – could not take part in the bid contest.
Nicholas, a Cook Island native who attended Rutherford High School in Te Atatu in the early 1980s, coached and refereed football in the Cook Islands.
He joined the OFC in 1998 as executive officer and later became development manager.
Nicholas – then aged 37 – became OFC secretary-general in November 2004, after serving for over six months in an acting capacity. He replaced Josephine King – daughter of former OFC president Charlie Dempsey – who had been in the role for 16 years.
He pleaded guilty to a charge of contempt of court in Fiji’s High Court in 2012 over comments in a 2011 Sunday Star-Times article where he claimed there was no judiciary in Fiji.
Nicholas was convicted and fined $F15,000. High Court judge William Calanchini said the OFC officials comments were “a scurrilous attack on the judiciary, thereby lowering the authority of the judiciary and the court”.
The comments arose after Nicholas defended OFC treasurer Dr Muhammad Shamsud-Dean Sahu Khan, a former lawyer disbarred by Fiji’s Independent Legal Services Commission and banned from holding a practising certificate for 10 years.
Chung made an official apology to the Fijian government in July 2012 – seven months after Nicholas was charged.
He said Nicholas’ comments were a “backfired joke”. “I understand what our general secretary said was out of context, childish and cheeky. Knowing my general secretary for a long time, sometimes he likes to joke, not taking things for granted.”
The Oceania Football Confederation is the smallest of Fifa’s six confederations and the only one without direct entry to the Fifa men’s World Cup finals.
It was formed in1966.
New Zealand football official Charlie Dempsey was the OFC’s longest serving president, serving from 1982 to 2000. His daughter, Josephine King, was appointed OFC general secretary during his tenure.
In 1999, the OFC developed the $1.2 million Charles J Dempsey Football Academy and administration centre near Mt Smart Stadium, in Auckland.
In 2016 – the last audited accounts published on the OFC website – the confederation received $15.2 million in total revenue, including $13.1m in grants. Employee wages, salaries and benefits amounted to almost $2.8 million. The OFC, which had $10.7 million in assets, recorded a trading surplus of almost $2.8 million.
– AP and Stuff