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Swiss investigating FIFA’s Burma dealings

A Swiss official has confirmed that the government there is seeking clarification from FIFA about payments made to the Myanmar Football Federation (MFF), following media reports of FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s controversial visit to the country.

Thomas Graf, from the Swiss State Secretariat on Economic Affairs (SECO), told DVB that “SECO is in contact with FIFA to seek clarification of the allegations that appeared in the media. FIFA will make available to us all information we need.”

Burmese exiled news websites DVB and Mizzima provided in-depth coverage of the visit earlier this month where he met with Zaw Zaw, the sanctions-listed business tycoon and president of the MFF.

Sepp Blatter seen during his visit to Burma earlier this month (DVB)

SECO had previously stated that because the MFF was not Zaw Zaw’s private property, FIFA’s donation to the MFF did not violate sanctions. Zaw Zaw is owner of the Max Myanmar company and Ayerwaddy Bank, as well as a multitude of other business interests. His strong connections to the Burmese junta have meant that he, his wife and his businesses are on US and EU sanctions lists, while Switzerland, where FIFA is based and where Blatter is a citizen, also maintains  sanctions on Burma.

Despite SECO’s claims, FIFA spokesperson Alex Stone DVB around the time of the visit that the world football governing body’s statutes “are very clear: the running of football organisations has to be autonomous from governments”.

Furthermore it appears that as a result of that statute, and to avoid the illegal siphoning of funds earmarked for a training ground in Mandalay, an office for the MFF in Rangoon and additional seating in a stadium, FIFA rules state that it “shall effect payment directly to the contractual parties concerned in compliance with the contracts”.

Now it has emerged that one these parties was Zaw Zaw’s blacklisted Max Myanmar Construction Co. Ltd, thereby breaking both FIFA’s own statutes and Swiss sanctions.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter has faced numerous allegations of corruption during his 13 year tenure as head of the body. Of this latest scandal however, Graf told DVB that regardless of the inquiry’s results, “SECO will not make a public announcement or comment on the results of the information sharing by FIFA”.

FIFA meanwhile refused to comment directly on the accusations, and responded only that it “has contacted SECO and explained the details of the project in Myanmar [Burma]. FIFA will provide all the necessary documents to the SECO.”

Football is by far Burma’s most popular sport, with huge viewing figures for televised English Premier League matches in particular. Last year, leaked US cables revealed that junta chief Than Shwe, whose grandson plays for Delta United, formerly owned by Zaw Zaw, considered buying Manchester United for somewhere in the region of $US1 billion while the country was still reeling from the devastating cyclone Nargis.


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