Australia police probe World Cup bid for stolen cash


SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia's national police are evaluating the country's failed bid to host the 2022 World Cup to see if any funds were misappropriated, as the fallout from the FIFA scandal continued to resonate around the world on Thursday.

The bid, which was part-funded by A$42.5 million (21 million pounds) of government money, received just a single vote in the 2010 ballot which controversially awarded the showpiece event to Qatar.

As part of its bid, Football Federation Australia (FFA) made a $500,000 (326,283 pounds) payment to Central and North America's governing body CONCACAF for a centre of excellence in Trinidad and Tobago.

Bonita Mersiades, a former member of Australia's bid team, and Senator Nick Xenophon last week wrote to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) asking them to investigate the payment.

"The AFP is currently evaluating allegations of the misappropriation of funds from Football Federation Australia to FIFA," the police said on Thursday.

FFA Chairman Frank Lowy on Wednesday issued an open letter in which he said Australia had asked for its money back after a CONCACAF probe found it had been embezzled by former FIFA vice president Jack Warner.

The shock resignation of FIFA President Sepp Blatter on Tuesday has intensified calls for the 2022 bidding process, the subject of probes by the Swiss and U.S. authorities, to be re-run if it is proved to have been corrupt.

Qatar organisers have always denied any corruption in their bid.

CRITICS' BACKLASH

If Lowy's letter was intended to clear the air for Australia to run again should Qatar be disqualified as hosts, it was not entirely successful as critics rounded on the FFA on Thursday.

Former FFA board member Jack Reilly said Lowy had run the bid team as his personal fiefdom and ignored misgivings from others over payments made and the hiring of controversial consultant Peter Hargitay, a one-time adviser to Blatter.

"Many things were queried when Hargitay was appointed," Reilly told the Australian Financial Review. "I queried that mercilessly because of his reputation, but it went ahead."

Lowy addressed the hiring of Hargitay in his letter, saying the bid team had been "naive".

"We were playing 'catch up' in world football terms," Lowy wrote. "When we launched our bid for 2022 we were not familiar with the powerbrokers in world football. This led us to recruit, on the advice of FIFA's leadership, consultants who ultimately proved less than effective, to say the least."

Hargitay said after the vote that he had been lied to by members of FIFA's executive committee who had promised to back Australia's bid.

Some in Australia remain enthusiastic about hosting the World Cup, including sports minister for the state of Victoria John Eren, who suggested Melbourne could host the final.

"We could step in, we could help out. We are prepared to take on that challenge," he said on Thursday.

National sports minister Sussan Ley, however, has made it clear Australia would not bid again to host the World Cup until there are major changes at football's world governing body.

"This, more than ever, resolves my view that appropriate governance reforms at FIFA must be undertaken, and succeed, before Australia could ever entrust taxpayer dollars towards any bid overseen by FIFA," she said.

(Editing by Ian Geoghegan)

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