Financial irregularities in African soccer exposed by audit

The scale of financial wrongdoing across African football has been unearthed in a confidential audit of the continent’s governing body that raises concerns about the legitimacy of millions of dollars of payments to executives and national associations.

The Associated Press on Saturday obtained a copy of the private forensic review of the Confederation of African Football that was undertaken by financial services firm PwC last year when FIFA was effectively running the troubled body.

The auditors had to grapple with limited documentation to account for payments at CAF worth millions of dollars that raised doubts about the nature of contracts, the need for family members of executives to receive payments, and raised the prospect of kickbacks and tax evasion attempts.

The report, which is more than 50 pages long, covers the period 2015-19 and the presidencies of Issa Hayatou and successor Ahmad, who remains in power despite an ongoing ethics investigation that predates this audit.

The lack of documents related to financial transactions before 2015 has already been highlighted as an area needing further investigation, according to separate recommendations from a joint FIFA-CAF taskforce in another document obtained by the AP. The group, which includes political and legal figures from across Africa, has urged due diligence checks on payments from FIFA and CAF to the 54 member associations on the continent.

FIFA remitted $51 million to an Egyptian-based bank account from 2015 to 2018 as part of its “Forward Programme,” according to the audit seen by the AP. By Dec. 18, 2018, $24 million had been disbursed across the continent and $10 million of this — amounting to 40 payments — was reviewed and investigated.

PwC found $4.6 million from 14 payments had “no or insufficient supporting documentation to determine the beneficiary, purpose, and benefit for CAF.” The auditors said they could not find the purpose of the payment, the ultimate beneficiary or evidence the cash had been received in some cases.

Another $3.6 million accounting for 21 payments was “considered unusual or deemed higher risk,” the report said. Only five payments of those scrutinized — amounting to $1.6 million — had “sufficient documentation” and were said to have been used for the purpose intended.

“Based upon the procedures performed and documents reviewed, several red flags, potential elements of mismanagement and possible abuse of power were found in key areas of finance and operations of CAF,” the PwC auditors said in the report. “Given the serious nature of certain findings and red flags identified from the preliminary due-diligence, we cannot rule out the possibility of potential irregularities.”

The large number of cash payments concerned PwC, which said they resulted in “little or no audit trail to verify if the cash has been spent legitimately or not.” It noted a round sum of $215,000 spent during a general assembly meeting in Ethiopia in March 2017.

“Lack of key financial controls and absence of segregation of duties in day-to-day financial operations was observed during the review,” PwC found. “Often a single employee would have the authority to, and have executed, conflicting duties such as approving expenditure, receiving of goods and services, and approving payments.”

The report outlined payments to members of the CAF executive committee from the governing body for gifts, donations and even a funeral.

“No supporting documents could be provided for review,” the report said.

The report found that CAF appeared to pay around $100,000 for 18 people including its president, Ahmad, and federation heads to travel on an Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

“CAF stated that the cost of travelling of 18 people between their home countries to Egypt was booked as ‘official expense’ towards organizing a meeting at Egypt and the cost of traveling between Egypt and Saudi Arabia was taken by CAF’s president personally,” the report said. “However, CAF could not provide any documents to support that an official meeting was organized in Egypt during this time. It is to be noted that the presumed costs of travel between Egypt and Saudi Arabia is in the range of $20,000–$30,000 higher than the actual reimbursement made by CAF’s President.”

Ahmad declined to comment on the audit's findings.

The audit raised concerns that “several large procurement transactions” were handled by the executive committee or management while cutting out specialist staff like the marketing department for a deal with French-based company Tactical Steel.

PwC found its main business appeared to be in design, manufacturing, sales and gym products but received $4.4 million from December 2017 to December 2018 to supply football equipment including referees kit and footballs. Purchases were arranged through email exchanges rather than with contracts and full invoices documenting the deals.

A Tactical Steel staff member reached on Saturday was not aware of the audit but the company based in La Seyne-sur-mer has previously denied wrongdoing.

In 2017, Ahmad, who is from Madagascar, ended the 29-year reign of Hayatou as head of the Confederation of African Football.

When CAF was under Hayatou's leadership, PwC found indemnities and allowances were claimed by spouses of members of the ruling executive committee and highlighted $36,150 of payments across the 2016 African Nations Championship including $100 a day for food.

PwC had to reconstruct the money trail because the lack of structure that it found was "not in line with generally accepted accounting principles," including around 80% of payments to vendors, member associations, executive committee members and referees just listed as "suppliers’ payments.”

FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura has just ended a six-month spell effectively running the troubled body.

FIFA convinced CAF to accept Samoura in a role of general delegate for Africa last year in an attempt to clean up the confederation. CAF did not extend her mandate last week but FIFA said her involvement in the governing body had helped to “accelerate the implementation of the reform process.”

FIFA declined to comment on the audit but the Zurich-based body has been working to overhaul compliance procedures at CAF. Ahmad is a vice president of FIFA through his African leadership position.

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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