June 12, 2015

INTERPOL HALTS USE OF FIFA FUNDS FOR ANTICORRUPTION PROGRAM

[Pietro Calcaterra, a spokesman for Interpol, confirmed that since 2011, Interpol, which has a staff of more than 800 and describes itself as the world’s largest international police organization, has been augmenting its annual budget — about €80 million, or about $90 million, last year — by turning to the private sector.]

 

LONDON — Interpol suspended an agreement with FIFA on Friday that had called for the international police agency to receive 20 million euros over 10 years to fight corruption in soccer, citing the American investigations that have ensnared soccer’s world governing body.
Pietro Calcaterra, a spokesman for Interpol, confirmed that since 2011, Interpol, which has a staff of more than 800 and describes itself as the world’s largest international police organization, has been augmenting its annual budget — about €80 million, or about $90 million, last year — by turning to the private sector.
The four-year-old deal had raised doubts about the risks of a conflict of interest and questions about whether it was appropriate for Interpol to accept millions of euros from FIFA.
Sepp Blatter was re-elected to a fourth term as FIFA’s leader in 2011 just weeks after the agreement was signed, raising questions about whether he had used the deal to try to deflect accusations about corruption that have long swirled around his organization.
Mr. Calcaterra declined to comment immediately on the concerns about any conflict of interest that might have been generated by the agreement with FIFA.
In May 2011, FIFA agreed to provide about $23 million over 10 years to support the Integrity in Sport program run by Interpol. The program is meant to provide training and education to prevent fraud and corruption in soccer, including match-fixing and illegal betting. The contribution was described at the time as the biggest-ever private donation to Interpol.
Interpol said in a statement on Friday that the organization would “freeze the use of financial contributions from FIFA.” In the statement, Interpol’s secretary general, J├╝rgen Stock, said the decision had been taken “in light of the current context surrounding FIFA.”
“All external partners, whether public or private, must share the fundamental values and principles of the organization,” Mr. Stock added. The statement also lauded the anticorruption program for helping the agency’s efforts across its 190 member countries to “prevent the manipulation of sporting events and illegal gambling by criminal groups.”
Also on Friday, the Vatican suspended the acceptance of charitable donations from Conmebol, the South American soccer confederation, The Associated Press reported, because the confederation is under scrutiny in the American investigation.
FIFA said in a statement on Friday that it was disappointed by Interpol’s decision, and warned that the move would have negative consequences in the fight against criminal activity in soccer.
Interpol issued wanted-person alerts on June 3 for two former senior FIFA officials and four corporate executives, one day after Mr. Blatter announced that he would resign after 17 years as the body’s president.
The Interpol alerts, issued at the request of the United States, included a former FIFA vice president, Jack Warner, a soccer official from Trinidad and Tobago who has been accused of accepting bribes in connection with the decision to award the hosting of the 2010 World Cup to South Africa.
Interpol’s website notes that its principle source of funding comes from contributions provided by its 190 member states, including the United States. But donors have also included the pharmaceutical, tobacco and technology industries.
The top 10 donors to Interpol last year included FIFA and the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, whose successful bid to host the World Cup is part of a separate corruption inquiry in Switzerland. Other big donors include the tobacco giant Philip Morris International, which joined forces with Interpol to combat the trafficking of illicit goods, including the smuggling of counterfeit cigarettes.
When the deal with Interpol was announced, FIFA said it was a “milestone” that would enhance the global effort to fight corruption. “The threat of match-fixing in sport is a major one, and we are committed to doing everything in our power to tackle this threat,” Mr. Blatter said in a statement at the time.

@ The New York Times
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[The police in Uttar Pradesh said Thursday that they were investigating the accusations against Mr. Verma and his associates. Amitabh Thakur, a senior police official, went to check on Mr. Singh in his hospital bed in Lucknow, the state capital, before he died on Monday evening, a week after he was burned in the dusty town of Shahjahanpur on June 1.]

By Suhasini Raj

NEW DELHI — They came in the heat of the late afternoon, two cars jammed with enforcers and police officers allied with a local dairy minister. They charged into the reporter’s house and reminded him that he had been warned many times that “he should not write anything against the minister.”

At least that’s what the reporter, Jagendra Singh, told a police official on his deathbed, with 60 percent of his body covered with burns after, he said, the men doused him with gasoline and set him on fire.

It was payback, he said, for his many posts on social media linking Ram Murti Verma, the minister of dairy development in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, to illegal sand mining and taking possession of unoccupied land, two underground activities rampant in the state.

“They warned him that they will not leave his fingers in such a state that they would be able to write anything against the minister,” said Mr. Singh’s son, Rahul, in a telephone interview on Thursday.

The police in Uttar Pradesh said Thursday that they were investigating the accusations against Mr. Verma and his associates. Amitabh Thakur, a senior police official, went to check on Mr. Singh in his hospital bed in Lucknow, the state capital, before he died on Monday evening, a week after he was burned in the dusty town of Shahjahanpur on June 1.

The Committee to Protect Journalists called this week for an independent inquiry into Mr. Singh’s death.

“Given the allegations of police participation, and India’s poor track record of solving crimes in connection with reporting on local corruption, the involvement of an independent authority is essential,” Sumit Galhotra, a research associate for the group’s Asia branch, said in a statement.

The statement noted that the superintendent of police in Shahjahanpur, Babloo Kumar, had denied that Mr. Singh was a journalist and told the organization that Mr. Singh had committed suicide. When reached later by telephone, Mr. Kumar did not repeat those claims, saying only that the investigation was ongoing.

Mr. Singh, who had been working in the Hindi news media for 15 years, had written several Facebook posts in recent months accusing Mr. Verma of involvement in illegal activities. His fear for his own safety was apparent, and he said that he had been attacked by the minister’s loyalists before.

“Ram Murti Singh Verma can have me killed,” Mr. Singh wrote in a post on May 22. “At this time, politicians, thugs, and police, all are after me. Writing the truth is weighing heavily on my life.”

While there have been no arrests in the case so far, the police have filed a complaint against six men, including Mr. Verma, in the burning of Mr. Singh, according to Mr. Kumar. A special police team has been set up to investigate the attack.

“Whoever is found guilty, including the minister, will be arrested accordingly,” said Mr. Kumar, the police superintendent. “Nobody will be spared.”

Indian journalists say that their safety has long been compromised, particularly in small towns where the local authorities can wield enormous power.

According to the Press Council of India, a statutory press watchdog group, 79 journalists were murdered in the past two and a half years in India, with very few convictions. The International News Safety Institute, based in Britain, put the number slightly lower in a report this year— 69 journalists killed from 2004 to 2014.

That made India the fifth most dangerous country for journalists, after Iraq, the Philippines, Pakistan and Mexico. India placed 13th on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ annual global impunity index from 2014.

Reporting was contributed by Nida Najar.