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FIFA Investigates Use of Soccer Development Grant to Gabon

A FIFA appointee is investigating the use of a $548,262 grant paid to Gabon’s defense ministry to promote soccer as the sport’s ruling body tightens regulations on managing development funds.

Dieudonne Ndoumbou, who was made acting president of a committee overseeing Gabon soccer last month, said by telephone he’s looking into what happened to the money that should have been used to build a training center in Libreville, the capital. FIFA said in an e-mail the grant was approved in 2005 and it plans to check on the progress of the unfinished project on a visit in June or July.

Eight officials in Gabon’s defense and sports ministries declined to comment on what the grant was used for, saying they didn’t want to risk losing their jobs. Alphonse Bandah, a communication ministry official, referred a request for comment to Justice Minister Ida Reteno Assonouet, who declined to be interviewed for this story.

Not-for-profit FIFA, which in March reported revenue of $1.16 billion for 2012, distributes some income from World Cup television and sponsorship rights sales to develop soccer, mostly in poorer nations. About one-third of some 500 projects since 1999 have been in Africa.

Ndoumbou, a former referee, said he was doing an inventory to see why the training center wasn’t built.

“Why isn’t it finished? It’s a long story,” Ndoumbou said. “If you know Africa, some cultures in Africa, you will understand why it’s not finished. We have to check bit-by-bit what happened.”

Unusual Choice

He said it was unusual for FIFA to award the grant to the defense ministry.

“Normally, it must be a private company,” Ndoumbou said.

FIFA said in an e-mail the Gabon soccer federation had picked the contractor.

Zurich-based FIFA has handed out about $2 billion in development funds since 1999 during Sepp Blatter’s presidency. It plans to increase regulation of the grants as part of reforms following the ousting or resignation since 2011 of at least four officials, including Blatter’s predecessor Joao Havelange, amid ethics investigations.

From July 1, FIFA will require national federations receiving grants to put contracts of more than $50,000 out to tender and file audited annual accounts.

The Gabon grant was awarded during the 41-year leadership of President Omar Bongo. He died in 2009, and was replaced by his eldest son Ali Bongo.

The main contractor was Genie Militaire Steyr Daimler Puch Gabon, according to FIFA’s data. Genie Militaire is French for military engineering. Steyr Daimler Puch Spezialfahrzeug GmbH is a Vienna-based military vehicle maker.

Military Vehicles

Steyr Daimler, which sold vehicles to Gabon in 2003 and 2004, wasn’t involved in the soccer project and hasn’t received any money from FIFA, said Rob Doolittle, a spokesman for parent company General Dynamics Corp. (GD)

In December 2008, Transparency International France petitioned French authorities to investigate allegations that Omar Bongo and two other African leaders had embezzled public funds. Police investigations showed Bongo and his relatives owned 39 apartments in France, many of them in the wealthiest district of Paris, and operated 70 bank accounts, according to the anti-corruption organization.

Gabon’s Council of Ministers, whose chairman was Bongo, called the allegations a “despicable campaign of slander and insults” by the French public and media against the president.

To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Duff in Madrid at aduff4@bloomberg.net; Antoine Lawson in Libreville at ankolo@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net

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