- - Monday, January 28, 2019

 

In February, the Union of European Football Associates (UEFA) will hold elections for its executive committee. This year, the poll will be marred by allegations of corruption and intimidation of journalists by one of the candidates from Ukraine.

The story seems to have been building for quite a while.


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Andriy Pavelko is the People’s deputy from the ruling party, head of the Budget Committee of the country’s parliament, and the president of the Football Federation of Ukraine. For much of 2018, the Ukrainian media has been accusing him of siphoning off money from football contracts to offshore companies domiciled in the United Arab Emirates. This includes Radio Svoboda, or Radio Free Europe, the American-funded media organization reporting on foreign governments.  

Svoboda writes that “[an investigation] revealed million dollars were withdrawn from the budget of the Football Federation of Ukraine as a result of the purchase of equipment for production of turf for football grounds through an intermediate company in United Arab Emirates. Andriy Pavelko, an influential politician and people’s deputy from President’s political fraction and Chairman of the Budgetary Committee of Verkhovna Rada, visited that country. Journalist of ‘Schemes’ found photographic proof of his meeting with the nominee director of that company. Why did the Football Federation of Ukraine agree to have an indirect contract and overpay more than 30 million hryvnas to an offshore account from its budget?” The National Anticorruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) stated it is investigating the issue.



Taking into account the alleged involvement of Andriy Pavelko and the fact that the incumbent president of the FFU is a candidate for the position of the UEFA Executive Committee member, the scandal ceases to be the property of exclusively Ukrainian investigators, and its powerful ripples have been felt even in Europe.

Arnaud Bedat, one of the leading European investigative journalists, biographer of Pope Francis, has also been reporting on this issue for some time.  Over a six month period, Mr. Bedat has published articles in the large-circulation, world-famous L’ilustré magazine; it was also “picked up” by the main football journal of the world – France Football, which is the organizer of the highest individual award in the world of football, the Ballon d’Or (Golden Ball).

For his trouble, Mr. Bedat declares he has been the target of a large-scale disinformation campaign, including fake articles in the Ukrainian and European press, and malicious fake tweets professing his sorry for writing about Mr. Pavelko.

“They don’t want it to be a subject of discussion anymore. Why do they want to silence the journalist? Why do they want to limit him? There is no doubt that it’s because of what he is writing about true facts,” Mr. Bedat declared during a recent interview on the French international television channel TV5 Monde.

While also describing death threats he has received, Mr. Bedat stated, “In Ukraine journalists are being killed. So, it’s good that I have the opportunity to live in Switzerland. I also hope that Mr. Pavelko understands perfectly well: if something happens to me, it will be undoubtedly read as his handwriting.”

The statements of Mr. Bedat could be perceived through the prism of exaggeration unless there was a precedent.  A journalist, Ahmed Hussain-Suale, was assassinated last week in Ghana, after proving that a number of high-ranking politicians had been involved in the corrupt schemes of the nation’s football association, which eventually led to the resignation of the head of the entity and its dissolution.

BBC aired video directly testifying that the head of the Association Kwesi Nyantakyi, who among the other positions, holds the post of a member of the Strategic Council of FIFA and vice president of the African Football Confederation (analogue of UEFA), received a bribe in the amount of $65,000. Moreover, the assassination was preceded by a call on live TV from a Ghanaian Member of Parliament, Kennedy Agaypong, to “take care” of Hussein-Suale.

“If you’ll meet him somewhere, just break his ears. I’m telling you, beat him. Whatever happens, I’ll pay you for that. He is a bad boy”, the People’s Deputy said, and showed a photo of the journalist.

Radio Svoboda writes about alleged evidence that was provided by hackers which proved the kickback scheme in the UAE. “This year, in May, hackers have released on internet gigabytes of e-mail correspondence of people affiliated with the Football Federation of Ukraine. The correspondence reveals the overstatement of the cost of equipment that was purchased for the factory in Martusivka. E-mail boxes allegedly contained scan copies of agreements between aforementioned FFU Production and company S.D.T. FZE incorporated in United Arab Emirates.”

In the Svoboda video produced on the scandal, Mr. Pavelko declares he had no knowledge of the contract process or intimate details of the offshore company involved. When shown a picture of himself with the nominee director of the shell company in the UAE, Mr. Pavelko states he was there just for an introduction. 

In any event, without confirming anyone’s guilt or innocence in this matter, it is safe to say that this type of scandal, along with the alleged intimidation of journalists, is serious stuff.  It seems the executives of UEFA would have an interest in transparency on the issue prior to the upcoming elections.

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