The disgraced Fifa executive Jack Warner visited Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin less than a week before an alleged multimillion-dollar bribery scheme was initiated by Russia to buy his vote in the competition to host the 2018 World Cup.
The Trinidad and Tobago official is alleged to have been paid $5m to vote for Russia, rather than England’s rival bid, through a network of front companies working for the country’s bid committee, according to an indictment released by US federal prosecutors last week.
The indictment — which is the result of the FBI’s five-year investigation into Fifa, the body that runs world football — also alleges that the three senior South American Fifa officials were given bribes to vote for Qatar to host the 2022 tournament.
England’s bid for the 2018 World Cup had been counting on the support of Warner, then Fifa’s vice-president and a power broker among the 22 executives at the vote in December 2010. But Warner voted for Russia, which won, and England was knocked out with two votes.
Shortly before the vote, on Monday, November 1, 2010, Warner’s assistant received an email from a middleman representing the Russians saying: “Kindly advise him that what has been agreed is what is being done this week,” the indictment states.
The payments then started to flow from 10 different off-shore shell companies into an account controlled by Warner in his home country. The $5m bribe is alleged to have been paid through more than “two dozen” wire transactions between November and April 2011.
Inquiries by this newspaper have established that Warner flew to Moscow to meet Putin on October 26, 2010, just six days before the middleman’s email. It raises fresh questions about the then Russian prime minister’s knowledge of the elaborate bribery scheme.
In a submission to parliament, this newspaper has previously disclosed that intelligence gathered for the English bid had warned that Putin had taken charge of Russia’s bid campaign in the summer of 2010 because he feared his country was facing defeat in the contest.
The intelligence claimed that Putin had handed a trusted cabal of oligarchs the task of doing “deniable” deals to win the support of Fifa voters. “Putin dragged in all sorts of capabilities,” said a former MI6 source involved in the intelligence gathering. “They suddenly woke up to the fact that this wasn’t going well and they had to do something about it.
The Russian bid’s fortunes were transformed in the weeks leading up to the vote in Zurich. Meanwhile, the England bid team still believed it could win over Warner, who was regarded as “pivotal” because of his influence within Fifa and the fact that he brought with him two other Central American voters.
The England bid’s dream team of David Cameron, David Beckham and Prince William was dispatched to lobby Warner in the hours before the vote but to no avail. Warner voted for Russia, which won with 13 votes.
Putin arrived in Zurich after the vote to claim glory, and blamed this newspaper and the BBC for his late appearance. Six weeks before the ballot, this newspaper had exposed widespread corruption in the bidding process, which had forced Fifa to suspend and punish eight football officials, including two of the voters.
Putin told the media he had not attended the vote “out of respect”. He said: “There was unacceptable campaigning that was deployed for the World Cup in 2018. People were accused of corruption. [They] were accused without any grounds, without any reasons, no justifications.”
His comments were echoed days later by Warner, who blamed the British media for England’s lack of support. At the time, nothing was known about the bribes he was allegedly receiving from Russia.
Warner has since been banned from football after being involved in a separate bribery scheme and is fighting extradition to America, where he is accused of several corruption charges. He failed to respond to our request to comment on the latest allegations last week.
A Kremlin spokesman said last week that Russia had received the rights to host the World Cup in an “absolutely legal” manner. He said: “This is not linked in any way to any bribes and we categorically deny it.”
The former leader of the Russian bid team has also denied any knowledge of the alleged bribes.