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Ukrainian Soccer Association Seeks Probe Into Millions Of Allegedly Embezzled UEFA Funds

Hryhoriy Surkis, former president of the Ukrainian Association of Football (file photo)
Hryhoriy Surkis, former president of the Ukrainian Association of Football (file photo)

Ukrainian soccer's governing body has called on law enforcement agencies to investigate its former president, who is now a lawmaker, on suspicion of embezzling up to 380 million euros ($418 million).

In a Facebook post over the past weekend, the UAF said it had asked the State Bureau of Investigations, the Prosecutor-General’s Office, and the Interior Ministry to investigate whether any of the 380 million euros in payments that UEFA, European soccer's governing body, earmarked for the UAF and certain soccer teams between 1999 and 2016 had been misappropriated.

The UAF made the allegations against Hryhoriy Surkis based on an investigative report by the German magazine Der Spiegel that was published on September 6.

In the report, the German publication received confirmation from UEFA that all the funds it had transferred over a period of nearly 17 years intended for the Ukrainian Association of Football went through a company allegedly controlled by Hryhoriy Surkis's brother, Ihor, the co-owner and president of the Dynamo Kyiv soccer team.

In emails sent to Der Spiegel, Ihor Surkis denied wrongdoing, calling allegations of embezzlement "unfounded" and "manipulative."

Hryhoriy Surkis, now a lawmaker with the pro-Russian Opposition Platform-For Life Party, was a member of UEFA's executive committee for 15 years during this period and president of Ukrainian national soccer's governing body from 2000 to 2012, a position that overlapped with 8 years serving as a high-level UEFA functionary.

Dynamo Kyiv told the German magazine that questions as to whether the soccer club exerted influence on UEFA's financial department through people such as Hryhoriy Surkis were "based solely on speculation."

UEFA routinely provides money to national soccer governing bodies to promote and develop the sport, for anti-racism campaigns, and as premiums for teams playing in European competitions and individual players who get called up to play for their national teams.

Der Spiegel reported that UEFA discovered it had been paying the money to Newport Management Limited -- a company registered in the Caribbean tax haven of the British Virgin Islands -- in 2016.

The offshore company had received the money from UEFA -- nearly 400 payments in 2002-2016 -- in a Swiss bank account before transferring it to the Bank of Cyprus.

Citing an internal UEFA memo related to the body’s internal investigation of the payments, and based on a review of soccer contracts and a London lawsuit by Der Spiegel, the magazine found that the same offshore account was being "used by Newport to pay salaries and transfers on behalf of Dynamo Kyiv."

In a statement, the UAF said it had asked UEFA in March 2015 to pay the Ukrainian soccer association "directly" and to "stop the longtime practice of financing the UAF through offshore companies."

Der Spiegel said UEFA’s legal director, Alasdair Bell, learned about a fax from UAF to UEFA sent on March 19, 2015, asking European soccer's governing body to stop making payments via Newport.

"If this is a genuine fax that was sent by the [UAF] to UEFA…and which was never answered by us, then it raises some questions,” Bell wrote, as cited by Der Spiegel. "Perhaps at that stage, somebody might have put two and two together and remembered that the President of Dynamo Kyiv is the brother of a UEFA Exco Member? Or perhaps not."

The UAF said the practice of paying the association through Newport only stopped after a change in management at UEFA without specifying when that happened.

UEFA told the German publication that there was no record of UEFA having received such a fax from the UAF in March 2015.

It also said that a commission investigated payment procedures until May 2017 and found that "there had been no apparent violations of the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations by the [UAF] or UEFA officials."

With reporting by Der Spiegel
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