New Zealand fraud probe into ex-Oceania Football chief

Authorities will probe whether any criminal activity had taken place, but declined to provide further details of an active investigation.

Gianni Infantino warned the confederation was on its last opportunity to stamp out corruption.   -  GETTY IMAGES

New Zealand’s Serious Fraud Office said on Monday it is investigating former Oceania Football Confederation employees - including ex-president David Chung - after a complaint from FIFA.

Authorities will probe whether any criminal activity had taken place, but declined to provide further details of an active investigation.

“An investigation relating to former employees of Oceania Football Confederation is ongoing,” a fraud office spokesman said.

“The SFO commenced the investigation after receiving a complaint from the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).”

FIFA suspended Chung for six years in March 2019 for corruption related to an NZ Dollar 15 million (USD 10 million) building project in Auckland.

It found Chung guilty of receiving gifts and conflicts of interest over the scheme -- which intended to create a lavish “Home of Football” for the confederation in the New Zealand city.

Chung, from Papua New Guinea, had been one of FIFA’s most powerful officials, holding the position of senior vice-president and sitting on the organisation’s ruling council.

He quietly resigned from the confederation soon after FIFA began investigating him, with the world governing body saying his departure was “for personal reasons“.

The Serious Fraud Office, which has the power to investigate corrupt conduct carried out in New Zealand even if the participants are foreign nationals, did not name other ex-OFC staff under investigation.

FIFA banned former confederation general secretary Tai Nicholas for eight years in mid-2019, after it found the Cook Islander guilty of misappropriating funds and bribery in relation to the building project.

Both confederation and FIFA declined to comment on the New Zealand investigation.

Oceania - consisting mainly of Pacific island nations - is the smallest and weakest of FIFA’s six confederations, with a history of governance problems stretching back decades.

During a rare visit to the region last year, FIFA president Gianni Infantino warned the confederation was on its “last opportunity” to stamp out corruption.

“If there is still somebody in Oceania who is involved in football in any capacity, who has not realised yet that the time of abusing football for personal gain is over, then we can really not help it any more,” Infantino said at the time.

Chung’s predecessor, Reynald Temarii of Tahiti, was forced out in 2010 after being implicated in a vote-selling scandal during an undercover newspaper sting.

In 2017, former Guam FA president Richard Lai, who served on FIFA’s auditing body, was barred from football for life after admitting to accepting almost USD 1 million on kickbacks.

Another ex-confederation president, the late Charlie Dempsey of New Zealand, created an uproar in 2000 during the vote to award the 2006 World Cup.

He defied instructions to vote for South Africa, effectively handing the 2006 tournament to Germany, refusing to explain his actions as bribery allegations swirled.

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