Football seen as money-laundering vehicle: study

PARIS: The multi-billion dollar global football sector has become a vehicle for money laundering and other forms of corruption, requiring an international response, a study published Wednesday said.

"Money laundering through the football sector is revealed to be deeper and more complex than previously understood," said the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an intergovernmental body formed to fight money laundering and terrorist financing.

The Paris-based group said its analysis found that "there is more than anecdotal evidence indicating that a variety of money flows and or financial transactions may increase the risk of money laundering through football."

The football sector has in addition provided opportunities for other criminal activities such as trafficking in human beings and drugs, according to the FATF.

Based on responses to a questionnaire received last October from government and football authorities in 25 countries, more than 20 cases of football-related money laundering were detected, the task force said.

The cases ranged from the smuggling of large amounts of cash derived from apparently illegal transactions to more complex operations.

"Investments in football clubs can be used to integrate money of illegal origin in the financial system," the study found. "Football clubs are indeed seen by criminals as the perfect vehicles for money laundering."

Football since the early 1990s has undergone massive commercialisation through expanded television rights and corporate ownership. Player transfer payments have now reached "astounding dimensions," the study said.

While there are no overall figures on the global financial scope of the football sector, the European market alone, according to the Deloitte Annual Review of Football Finance, was worth 13.8 billion euros (19 billion dollars), or 0.1 percent European Union gross domestic product in 2007.

"Transfers are carried out all over the world," the FATF report said.

"The cross border money flows that are involved may largely fall outside the control of national and supranational football organisations, giving opportunities to move and launder money."

Betting too enables huge flows of money to take place outside the control of governing bodies.

The FATF study found that "several cases linked to trafficking in human beings involve individuals directly or indirectly linked to to the world of football."

It described the circumstances surrounding the recruitment of players in Africa and Latin America as "unclear."

And it said that with forbidden drugs and other substances now widely available over the Internet, there is expanded scope for organised crime to operate.

The study said that to fight corruption in football a greater understanding of the risks of money laundering associated with the game is needed on the part of government bodies and the private sector.

It argued that given the international nature of the sport, there should be greater standardisation of regulations governing management of the football sector worldwide.

"International cooperation and information sharing are key factors in the fight against money laundering" in football, the study also stressed.