Corruption Crisis Continues For Football

January 01, 1970 by Mark Dunn

Evidence reportedly implicating eight current and former Premier League managers in corruption scandals has been uncovered by the Daily Telegraph and passed onto the Football Association (FA).  The FA has announced it will meet City of London police to begin an official investigation into the alleged corrupt activity and several commentators have pointed out clear breaches of the Bribery Act.

A 10-month Daily Telegraph investigation has uncovered "widespread evidence of corruption" in English football. Evidence collected by the newspaper's investigative journalists includes recorded footage of agents, managers and club officials offering assistance to get around FA rules prohibiting third party ownership (TPO) of football players' economic rights, as well as allegedly accepting bribes.

TPO was banned by the Football Association (FA) at the start of the 2008-09 season and FIFA, the world football governing body, introduced a global ban on the practice in 2015.  Former UEFA president, Michael Platini, described the practice as "a type of slavery".

Dropping like flies

Sam Allardyce has stepped down as England Manager just 67 days after taking up the position when a recording was released that appeared to show him negotiating a £400,000 deal to circumvent FA rules.  Allardyce also revealed he had signed Enner Valencia under a TPO agreement while in charge of West Ham.  Valencia joined the club from Mexican team Pachuca for £12 million in 2014.

Tommy Wright, Assistant Head Coach of Barnsley, has been fired following reports he received a £5,000 payment from undercover reporters he believed to be football agents, whilst Queens Park Rangers is conducting an internal investigation into the conduct of their manager, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.  Hasselbaink is alleged to have requested £55,000 to work for a fake Far Eastern firm looking to sell players to the club.

Bribery is bribery

Sir Eric Pickles, a former Cabinet minister and the Government's anti-corruption champion, said The Telegraph had uncovered "clear evidence suggesting a breach of the Bribery Act" and is pressuring the police to launch an official investigation into potential criminality.

Under the Bribery Act 2010 it is an offence to offer, promise or give a financial or other advantage with the intention of inducing a person to "perform improperly a relevant function or activity, or to reward a person for the improper performance of such a function or activity."

Dan Tench, a partner at Olswang solicitors explained: "If a manager had accepted a sum of money specifically to sign a particular player, there would appear to be good grounds to believe that a criminal offence would have been committed under section 2 of the Bribery Act 2010."

It is likely more bribery charges may surface as the investigation continues.  The Telegraph has stated that it will reveal additional material over the coming days, including evidence that a senior figure at a Premier League club "helped undercover reporters to formulate a plan to bribe managers".

A solid defence

The news is the latest development in a timeline of corruption allegations that world football appears unable to shake off.  FIFA has been dogged by allegations of corruption since a 2010 exposé relating to the World Cup bidding process.  This eventually resulted in the arrest of 14 FIFA executives and officials by Swiss police at the request of the US government in May 2015 and criminal investigation into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding processes.

The depth and breadth of the investigation into the football industry highlights why organisations need to conduct thorough entity and employee screening.  The only defence available to a company accused of bribery is to prove "adequate procedures" are in place to prevent bribery from being committed by those acting on behalf of the company.  Due diligence, particularly when carrying out business overseas, as well as training and support for staff in compliance procedures, is the only way companies can protect themselves against the risk of unintentional corruption, bribery or money laundering accusations if any of their business associates fall foul of the law.

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