SFO asked to probe foot­ball project

Marlborough Express - - FRONT PAGE -

The Se­ri­ous Fraud Of­fice has been asked to in­ves­ti­gate a Fi­fa­funded Auck­land foot­ball cen­tre that ran mil­lions of dol­lars over bud­get.

Since 2013, Fifa’s Ocea­nia Foot­ball Con­fed­er­a­tion (OFC) has been build­ing the OFC Home of Foot­ball at Ngahue Re­serve in St Johns, Auck­land.

Stage one was ini­tially es­ti­mated to cost $5.3 mil­lion but as of 2016 costs had soared to $12.8m.

The bud­get blowout prompted Fifa to freeze fund­ing to the Home of Foot­ball and launch an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

New Zealand Foot­ball pres­i­dent Deryck Shaw, who is also an OFC board mem­ber, said the OFC had ap­proached the Se­ri­ous Fraud Of­fice (SFO) seek­ing help shortly after a Fifa-com­mis­sioned PWC re­port un­cov­ered ‘‘po­ten­tial ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties’’ re­lat­ing to con­struc­tion.

‘‘Our foren­sic team has been li­ais­ing very closely with the SFO,’’ Shaw said.

Asked whether the SFO was in­ves­ti­gat­ing he said: ‘‘I un­der­stand they are. I hope they are.’’ The SFO de­clined to com­ment. When Fifa an­nounced in April it was con­duct­ing a ‘‘foren­sic au­dit’’ into the Home of Foot­ball, OFC pres­i­dent David Chung quit the or­gan­i­sa­tion. His res­ig­na­tion came just months after Tai Ni­cholas quit as OFC gen­eral sec­re­tary.

O¯ ra¯ kei Lo­cal Board chair­man Kit Parkin­son said he and other coun­cil of­fi­cials would to­day meet the new OFC gen­eral sec­re­tary, Franck Castillo, and chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer Fred­eric Guille­mont.

Castillo, Guille­mont and Ni­cholas did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment and Chung could not be reached.

In April Auck­land Coun­cil said its re­la­tion­ship with OFC had ‘‘pre­sented some dif­fi­cul­ties’’.

Auck­land com­pany 3 Di­men­sion Con­sul­tants was the Home of Foot­ball de­signer and project man­ager.

In April the Com­pa­nies Of­fice launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the firm over the use of a dead man’s name to file its an­nual re­turn.

3 Di­men­sion Con­sul­tants di­rec­tor Ken­neth Den­tice on Tues­day said the SFO had not con­tacted him.

Stage one of the Home of Foot­ball in­cludes two in­ter­na­tion­al­sized ar­ti­fi­cial foot­ball fields, prac­tice turf, warm-up turf, toi­lets, flood­lights, car park­ing and land­scap­ing.

Stage two was to in­clude an OFC of­fice, chang­ing rooms, cafe and gym, but the Auck­land Coun­cil or­dered OFC to stop work after it found ‘‘sig­nif­i­cant dis­crep­an­cies’’ be­tween the ap­proved work and pro­posed work.

OFC’S 2016 fi­nan­cial state­ments showed $3.1m had been spent on stage two, tak­ing the to­tal cost of the project to $15.9m.

Late last year the coun­cil or­dered a halt at the ground after dis­cov­er­ing ‘‘sig­nif­i­cant dis­crep­an­cies’’ be­tween the ap­proved work and pro­posed work.

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