Anti-money laundering body deletes FIFA-related warning

A FIFA logo sits on the rooftop at the FIFA headquarters on June 3, 2015 in Zurich.
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A FIFA logo sits on the rooftop at the FIFA headquarters on June 3, 2015 in Zurich.

A world anti-money laundering body has deleted all trace of an alert it issued last week warning that financial institutions had not done enough to police suspicious financial activity by officials at FIFA, soccer's global governing body.

The alert, on the website of the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force, was originally posted on June 16, almost three weeks after U.S. authorities indicted nine current and former FIFA officials and five business executives on a series of corruption charges, including bribery, money laundering and wire fraud.

In the statement, FATF said that "recent reports about alleged corruption and money laundering activities on a large scale by several high-ranking FIFA officials underscore how important it is that financial institutions identify and monitor high-risk customers."

FATF, an inter-governmental group whose members include national anti-money laundering agencies around the world, added that financial institutions "do not appear to have given a sufficient amount of scrutiny to the financial activities of the officials concerned, as many of these allegedly corruption-related transfers passed through the international financial system undetected."

Reuters first learned of the FATF notice from a European official familiar with FIFA investigations, and located it on Saturday through a Google search, though when the search engine on FATF's own website was queried, the FIFA notice did not appear.

On Monday morning, the URL which initially brought up the FIFA notice on Google instead produced a "not found" notice.

Concerns about phrasing

Roger Wilkins, FATF's President, told Reuters that he took the decision to remove the statement from the agency's website due to concerns about its phrasing and a lack of concrete evidence to support the claims.

"We don't want to interfere with ongoing investigations and the way it's phrased could be misconstrued ... We don't have any direct evidence that financial institutions have done necessarily anything wrong or failed to do anything in relation to these things," he said, while attending a FATF meeting in Brisbane, Australia.

FATF officials could not be immediately reached for further comment.

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Several bank compliance officers expressed concern about the level of due diligence into the sports business that was being suggested. One, at a British bank, said: "What, am I supposed to research? Who the marketing guy is at each shoe company who makes decisions about promotions tied to players and then watch his account to see if he receives an extra $50,000? Where does it stop?"

In addition to the U.S. criminal probe, Switzerland is investigating possible corruption in connection with FIFA's award of the World Cup hosting rights to Moscow in 2018 and Qatar in 2022.

Switzerland's Attorney General Michael Lauber, who is leading the investigation, told a news conference last week that his investigators were examining 104 banking relationships and 53 suspicious transactions which had been reported by Swiss bankers to Switzerland's own anti-money laundering agency.