11 Jun 2015

Payments to North Korea FA by Qatari exposed

North Korea’s football association benefited from $100,000 in payments made by the disgraced former Fifa presidential candidate Mohammed Bin Hammam, Channel 4 News has learned.

As North Korea’s football team beat Yemen 1-0 on Thursday in the country’s first qualifying match for the 2018 Russia World Cup, Channel 4 News has found evidence of $100,000 of payments from Qatari official Mohamed Bin Hammam, with a further $2 million in payments from FIFA also now in question from independent experts.

Bin Hamman was banned by Fifa and from all football-related activities for life in 2011, after the organisation’s ethics committee found that he had offered illicit financial incentives and engaged in “conflicts of interest” while president of the Asian Football Confederation.

Bin Hammam gave $7,944 to pay a Fifa-imposed fine on North Korea’s coach and $89,702 was allegedly paid to be spent on fences and football fields for the Football Association in 2010.

An internal report for the Asian Football Confederation, conducted by auditors Price Waterhouse Coopers’ office in Malaysia, and initially leaked to the Sunday Times, concluded that the payment of the fine in 2009 “may be seen by some as a clear conflict of interest”.

Bin Hammam did not respond directly to the allegations made in the report but has previously said he is “one hundred per cent innocent” of any wrongdoing.

Development Grants

Beyond the $100,000, FIFA itself has provided at least $2 million to the football association of North Korea in the last 14 years.

The money was designated for development and facilities, but Channel 4 News understands that the auditors who checked it had been spent as designated were the North Korean “Ministry of Sport” and “the Sports Committee”, indicating no external checks took place.

It’s not really possible to imagine anything approaching what we might call civil society in North Korea
Dr John Swenson-Wright

Furthermore, the president of the North Korean FA is Ri Jong-mu, who served as sports minister until April 2014, and was a lieutenant general in the Korean People’s Army. He is one of the most senior politburo members.

According to Dr John Swenson-Wright, head of Asia at Chatham House, North Korea’s FA couldn’t possibly be free of political interference.

“This is a very centralized system of political control it’s not really possible to imagine anything approaching what we might call civil society in North Korea. So the idea that their sporting associations could have some autonomy is I say really quite fanciful,” he told Channel 4 News.

Indonesia, another member of the Asian Football Confederation, was unable to play its World Cup fixture today. It was recently banned by Fifa due to the government taking over its football association in the wake of a corruption scandal.

Fifa was forced to withdraw plans to further fund North Korea due to Swiss laws on sanctions relating to the country’s development of nuclear weapons.

Fifa has not yet responded to questions about North Korea’s eligibility.

North Korea has been a member of FIFA since 1958 and has played twice at the World Cup.

North Korea’s embassy in the UK declined to comment when contacted by Channel 4 News.

Damian Collins MP, a Conservative MP who served on the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee told Channel 4 News that the sums may seem small but are reflective of a wider problem.

“It’s the purpose, that’s what matters. Why was the money given? To curry favour, to win support or a vote? That’s why it matters. There was a whole investigation into Mohamed Bin Hammam’s operation that Sepp Blatter commissioned, but that full report has never been published”, he added.

“He in many ways was a key figure in the run up to 2010 when the decisions about where the World should be played were made and no-one was closer to the Qatari world cup than Mohamed Bin Hammam.

There’s no corner of the earth which is safe from the reach of Fifa and that’s why we have to go through the whole organization and change it
Damian Collins MP