Auckland councillor's Fifa junket to Zurich

Auckland Councillor Alf Filipaina, left, and OFC president David Chung at an event in 2010.
Oceania Football Confederation

Auckland Councillor Alf Filipaina, left, and OFC president David Chung at an event in 2010.

A Kiwi politician is facing criticism for accepting a Fifa-funded junket to Switzerland to inspect artificial pitches.

Auckland councillor Alf Filipaina accepted the 2011 trip to Fifa's headquarters in Zurich as part of the troubled organisation's observer programme.

The trip came as the Orakei Local Board was deciding on which artificial pitch to use for the Oceania Football Confederation's (OFC) new $15 million "Home of Football" in Stonefields, east Auckland. 

Orakei Local Board member Kit Parkinson said he had also been offered the trip, but turned it down due to a potential conflict of interest. Filipaina was not involved in selecting Chinese company Taishan as the turf provider.

Neither Filipaina, the Auckland Council, nor Fifa could say how much the trip to the Swiss city cost. According to a Worldwide Cost of Living Survey released in March, Zurich is the most expensive city by today's exchange rates.

Filipaina said this week he took the trip so he could be better informed about artificial pitches, and saw nothing wrong with accepting Fifa hospitality. But others have questioned the need for him to go to Switzerland. Parkinson said he didn't understand why Filipaina needed to inspect the pitches in person.

Auckland Councillor Cameron Brewer claimed the trip had been kept secret from the rest of the council, and that third party-funded trips were often 'shrouded with secrecy'.

 

"The council needs to open up the transparency and accountability around these kind of third party-funded trips. Just because they're not paid for by ratepayers, doesn't mean there aren't any ramifications."

The decision to award the contract to Taishan upset New Zealand company, Tiger Turf, which says it was frozen out of the tender process. 

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Marketing manager Ron Armstrong said they weren't given the opportunity to quote on the turf installation project, despite having a business relationship with OFC. 

"We found that upsetting."

General secretary Tai Nicholas was with Filipaina in Zurich. He said the south Auckland councillor had a long association with the OFC.

Nicholas said Filipaina "opens a lot of our sports grounds and supports programmes... because he's a Pacific Islander and that's our demographic".

"Alf was invited by Fifa, paid for by Fifa, as part of the social responsibility programme that we run."

Nicholas disputed Tiger Turf's claim, and said the the parties met and Tiger Turf decided not to submit a tender.

He said Filipaina's trip occurred in September 2011, and approval for the site for the football complex was given in July 2013.

OFC has spent nearly $5m on artificial pitches from Taishan, flood lights and changing rooms at the east Auckland complex.

Nicholas said he was not aware of any corruption within the OFC and he had not been interviewed by the FBI, which is running a wider investigation into Fifa.

"All I can say is no current officials are involved in the current probe with Fifa and the FBI."

Meanwhile, Eastern Suburbs Football Club president Chris Ruffell said club members were upset at being denied access to the brand new artificial pitches. He said a new club set up by OFC, Orakei Football Club, and other schools were able to use the grounds while they were being blocked.

Tai Nicholas said this was due to the site still being under construction, and access was being sorted out with the clubs at meetings this week.

"We're just trying to balance that it's a construction site, you can't go in there in at certain times."

Plans for the multi-sport complex included three artificial football pitches, an indoor sports arena, conference centre, changing rooms, floodlights and a carpark.

But since the concept plan was consulted and agreed on in 2013, OFC has sought a number of changes to the project. 

Plans for 120-bed dormitory accommodation have been shelved after the council refused to approve them.

An Auckland Council spokeswoman said they were in ongoing discussions with OFC to agree to the variations they have requested.

"Council is working with OFC to make it possible for community groups to use the facilities pending completion of the construction works before the lease can be granted."

Fifa has been plagued by a corruption scandal which has seen president Sepp Blatter quit just days after his reelection, seven Fifa executives were charged over an FBI corruption probe, and the awarding of World Cups to  Qatar and Russia called into question by bribery allegations.

Yesterday, German newspaper Bild has claimed the German government allegedly sent Saudi Arabia a shipment of rocket propelled grenades in order that they would support their 2006 World Cup bid.

FIFA SCANDAL: KEY DEVELOPMENTS

December 2010 - Russia is awarded the 2018 World Cup and Qatar gets the 2022 hosting rights, days after the BBC broadcasts a Panorama expose of Fifa.

February 2011 - Fifa's ethics committee bans former Oceania Football Confederation president Reynald Temarii for his conduct during the World Cup vote. In May 2015, he is banned for a further eight years for accepting legal fees from Qatari powerbroker Mohamed bin Hammam.

June 2011 - Bin Hammam is found guilty of bribery and banned from all international and national football activity for life. 

July 2012 - Fifa commissions a report into allegations of corruption in world football which is led by former US attorney and newly appointed head of Fifa's ethics committee Michael Garcia.

November 2014 - Hans-Joachim Eckert, chairman of the adjudicatory chamber of Fifa's independent ethics committee, publishes a 42-page summary of Garcia's report. Garcia calls the summary "incomplete and erroneous" and launches an appeal against it.

December 2014 - Garcia loses his appeal against Eckert's review of his report and resigns as Fifa's independent ethics investigator, criticising Fifa's "lack of leadership" and saying he cannot change the culture of the world governing body.

May 2015 - Seven Fifa officials are arrested in dawn raids at a hotel in Zurich. They are later charged by US authorities along with two other Fifa officials and five corporate executives over allegations of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies spanning 24 years. They are accused of breeding decades of "rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted" corruption within Fifa by the US justice department.

June 2, 2015 - Press reports claim the South African FA asked Fifa secretary general Jerome Valcke to authorise a US$10m dollar payment to Fifa officials.

 - Stuff.co.nz

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