Mr. Rafiee said that Lebanese television had
earlier this month for the same reason refused to pay WSG for the broadcasting
of a World Cup qualifier in which Lebanon surprisingly defeated Iran. He said
that WSG was encountering similar problems in South Korea. Mr. Rafiee’s
assertions could not be immediately independently verified.
Kabir News said WSG’s hiking of broadcast
rights for 2014 World Cup qualifiers had angered fans in Asia.
Apparent tension between WSG and national
broadcasters comes as questions have arisen about the nature, terms and
value of the company’s $1 billion marketing rights agreement with the
Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
Questions have also been asked about
payments at the time that the WSG contract was being negotiated by a WSG
shareholder to Mohammed Bin Hammam, the disgraced AFC president and
world soccer body FIFA vice president. Mr. Bin Hammam has been suspended
since more than a year initially on suspicion of bribery and more
recently on the basis of an audit that accuses him of financial
mismanagement and raises multiple concerns about AFC’s contractual
relationship with WSG. The Qatari national has repeatedly denied any
Malaysian police last week arrested a man
believed to be an associate of Mr. Bin Hammam on suspicion of theft of
documents from AFC’s offices in Kuala Lumpur related to one of the WSG
shareholder’s payments. AFC lawyer Mohamad Bustaman Abdullah said Tony
Kang, the husband of Amelia Gan, the soccer body’s finance director
under Mr. Bin Hammam, who was let go earlier this year, had surrendered
himself to Malaysian police and was expected to be charged in court for
his role in the theft.
AFC reported the theft in late July after
an audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) raised questions about a
payment of $2 million payment in 2008 by Saudi Arabia-based
International Sports Events (ISE), one of three WSG shareholders,
according to the company’s website. The audit said that the money had
been paid into an AFC sundry account for Mr. Bin Hammam’s personal use.
It said the payment by ISE, which is believed to have a ten per cent
stake in WSG, as well as a second payment of $12 million by a related
company, Al Baraka Investment and Development Co., were “of interest.
Transactions of significant value between these parties (of both a
business and purportedly personal nature) occurred around the time of
the ($1 billion master rights) MRA contract negotiations with WSG,” PwC
said in its report.
PwC said further that “it is highly
unusual for funds (especially in the amounts detailed here) that appear
to be for the benefit of Mr Hammam personally, to be deposited to an
organization’s bank account. In view of the recent allegations that have
surrounded Mr Hammam, it is our view that there is significant risk
that…the AFC may have been used as a vehicle to launder funds and that
the funds have been credited to the former President for an improper
purpose (Money Laundering risk)” or that “the AFC may have been used as
a vehicle to launder the receipt and payment of bribes.”
WSG has refused to comment on the PwC
report and has failed to respond to various requests for comment by this
reporter in the past 15 month. However, WSG Group legal counsel
Stephanie McManus in an August 28 letter in advance of initiating legal
proceedings against this reporter in a bid to squash reporting and
intimidate sources said that “PWC are incorrect and misconceived in
suggesting that the MRA was undervalued. They have neither considered
the terms of the contract correctly, the market, nor the circumstances
in which it was negotiated.” Ms. McManus did not elaborate.
Nonetheless, obviously stung by broad
media reporting on the PwC report, WSG in a reversal of its no comment
and failed intimidation policy was quick to deny the Iranian television
assertions. WSG spokeswoman Shyamala Velappan in a statement sent to
Kabir News denied Mr. Rafiee’s claims.
“The information Mr. Rafiee has presented
is incorrect and misleading. Firstly, the previous agreement to
broadcast various AFC events for the period 2009 – 2012 was valued at
US$4.5 million. The broadcast rights fee which we are negotiating with
IRIB for the new cycle is US$11 million for all AFC national team and
club competitions, which consist of approximately 1,300 matches over a
four year period, not just the FIFA World Cup 2014 AFC qualifying
matches. To put this figure into context, it represents only a tiny
fraction of the rights fees being paid by other countries in the
Middle-East for the same number of matches,” Kabir News quoted Ms.
Velappan as saying.
James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S.
Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological
University in Singapore and author of the blog, The
Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer