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Fifa declares mission accomplished at Caf, but which mission?

Image credit: CAF

The death of former Caf general secretary Amr Fahmy did not prompt the kind of posthumous affection that usually follows the passing of a high-ranking African football administrator.

Fahmy, who died from a brain tumour at just 36, blew the whistle on financial improprieties at the Confederation of African Football and alleged that its president, Ahmad Ahmad, was guilty of serious financial misconduct.

Three months before his death, Fahmy announced his intention to run against Ahmad in the confederation’s presidential elections in 2021. Fahmy said his campaign would be “pro-Africa, pro-football and anti-corruption”.

Though his chances of election were slim at best, Fahmy was seen by many African football experts as Caf’s only hope for a future that combined good governance, responsible commercial dealings and self-determination.

Fahmy’s whistleblowing in March 2019 cost him his job as general secretary, but it prompted Fifa to act by installing its own general secretary, Fatma Samoura, as ‘general delegate for Africa’ in August 2019. Samoura and her team were appointed to oversee Caf’s commercial and governance processes for an initial period of six months, effectively supplanting the existing leadership. The arrangement was renewable upon the agreement of both Fifa and Caf.

Having people on the inside enabled Fifa and its appointed auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers, to investigate whether Fahmy’s allegations held weight. PwC was able to open up Caf’s murky financial practices and all but confirm what Fahmy had told them.

Though the findings in PwC’s report were often caveated so as to avoid any direct allegations of criminal wrongdoing, the report’s executive summary concluded that: “Several red flags, potential elements of mismanagement and possible abuse of power were found in key areas of finance and operations of Caf. Given the serious nature of certain findings and red flags identified from the preliminary due-diligence, we cannot rule out the possibility of financial irregularities.”

The most glaring example was an equipment supply deal between Caf and French company Tactical Steel. The deal involved payments that PwC described as “highly suspicious” and potentially indicative of “a kick back arrangement between parties involved or a case of tax evasion through offshore payments”.

Samoura and her team’s stated mission was to work alongside Caf to “bring stability, serenity, professionalism and effective football development on the African continent”. The unspoken mission was attempting to prevent another disastrous corruption scandal unfolding at a continental football confederation that has strongly backed Fifa president Gianni Infantino’s continued premiership.

Unsurprisingly, Caf’s executive committee voted to terminate the arrangement with Fifa after the initial six-month period ended, saying it would implement the myriad reforms recommended to it without the direct supervision of Fifa.

Fifa has declared its mission in Caf “successfully completed”, but a quick glance at Caf’s recent history and PwC’s 55-page report – seen by SportBusiness ­– casts doubt on whether Caf’s leadership is willing or able to change.

Executive Committee payments

The job of implementing the recommended reforms will fall to Caf’s Executive Committee (Exco), a committee which PwC singled out for potentially abusing its power within the organisation. The Exco comprises 22 African football officials, most of whom are either current or former national federation presidents, as well as Caf president Ahmad.

PwC’s report said that: “Payments and reimbursements to Exco members account for the majority of Caf’s administrative expenses. The expenses towards Exco members include salaries, periodic bonuses, travel related indemnities/allowances, end of term bonuses, and other ad-hoc re-imbursements and payments.”

It continued: “Caf Exco member’s compensations are not decided and approved by an independent committee as a matter of good governance. Exco members jointly or through a committee comprising a part of the Exco members (for example, compensation committee) propose and approve salaries, bonuses, end of term benefits, indemnities and allowances for the members of the Exco, leading to a self-approval situation.”

PwC found evidence of several undocumented, ad-hoc payments made to Exco members to cover the cost of the buying of gifts, “offering donations” and, in one particular case, funeral expenses for a relative of Exco second vice-president Constant Omari Selemani.

It also found Executive Committee members were claiming travel expenses on days they were not travelling, as well as receiving multiple payments for the same time period. In addition, Caf was paying allowances and indemnities to the spouses of Executive Committee members over and above the $150-per-day limit.

Finally, PwC found Caf had likely spent approximately $100,000 on a religious pilgrimage for Ahmad, his attaché, and 16 presidents from North African national football federations and associations.

In all, PwC reviewed a total of 35 payments made to Exco members totalling $1,118,902. Sixteen of these were classified as either indemnities or bonuses; 12 were classified as salary payments totalling $350,000; five were classified as ‘other reimbursements’ totalling $96,183; and two payments were listed as ‘end of service’ bonuses totalling $459,905.

Referring to all 35 payments, PwC said that: “Caf could not provide the required documentation to clearly establish the legitimacy of the payments; specifically, Caf could not provide required approvals for such payments and complete documentation to support the payments.”

If Caf is to implement reforms relating to financial conduct and good governance, Caf’s Exco must begin by reeling in their excess and creating powerful, independent bodies to regulate their conduct. Though it is an encouraging sign that they have publicly pledged to do so, the Exco will proceed without the kind of direct supervision from Fifa that could have forced those changes through.

Reclaimed rights

Whether or not Caf is able to improve its financial and governance processes, Fifa has emerged from its six-month takeover with at least one significant victory: the reclamation of media rights to Caf’s Fifa World Cup qualifying competitions for the 2022 and 2026 tournaments.

Prior to Samoura and her team’s arrival, Caf’s national federations had decided to sell rights to Caf’s World Cup qualifiers on an individual basis, instead of collectively as they had done in the past.

Conmebol, comprised of 10 national federations and associations, is the only confederation that allows its constituents to sell media rights to World Cup qualifiers on an individual basis. This sales process, which eventually requires co-operation and bartering between 10 different parties, is often protracted and complex. Caf, with 54 national federations and associations, was set to enter a whole new world of chaos.

Upon her arrival, one of Samoura’s first orders of business was convincing African football associations to cede their rights to Fifa – not Caf – to be sold centrally. The associations agreed to do so on August 21, allowing Fifa to be directly responsible for collecting and disbursing revenue to national associations.

If Fifa believed Caf would be successful in overhauling its financial and governance processes, football’s world governing body could have negotiated the collectivisation before handing control of the sales process back to Caf.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino

Tactical extraction

One reason for Fifa’s desire to take control of rights related to its own competitions is the continued investigations of Caf president Ahmad by the Fifa Ethics Committee and OCLIF, a division of French police focused on corruption and financial crime. These investigations centre on the equipment supply deal he negotiated with Tactical Steel for Caf’s African Nations Championship in 2018.

The PwC report describes the deal’s negotiation in detail, saying that Ahmad and his presidential office personally negotiated the deal while bypassing Caf’s finance and marketing departments. The report also found no evidence of a contract between Caf and Tactical Steel, explaining that the deal existed purely in terms of email exchanges, invoices and bank transfers between Caf and three related entities – Tactical Steel, ES Pro Consulting (France) and ES Pro Consulting (UAE).

PwC says that Caf overpaid Tactical Steel by $1.25m, most of which was then refunded to Caf. It adds: “The refunds from Tactical Steel and ES Pro Consulting, UAE and the incorporation of ES Pro Consulting Limited, UAE in July 2019 (with the same name and address as seen in the invoices sent to Caf) are highly suspicious which could potentially indicate a kick back arrangement between parties involved or a case of tax evasion through off-shore payments.”

Ahmad’s first presidential term comes to an end in March 2021, but Fahmy’s death means he could win an uncontested second term, potentially securing his position until March 2025.

It is understandable that Fifa wants to separate questions over Caf’s finances from media rights sales relating to its flagship competitions.

And it seems likely that Fifa’s announcement of a new $1bn African football investment fund – which will directly support Africa’s 54 member associations without passing through Caf’s accounts – derives from similar reasoning.

So for Fifa to declare its mission at Caf “successfully completed” raises the question of what the mission was. The six months of oversight seem unlikely to produce better governance in African football, but Fifa has excised Caf from several areas of control in African football.

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