Worawi Makudi denies misuse of funds

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BANGKOK, Thailand — FIFA executive committee member Worawi Makudi has denied wrongdoing as world soccer’s governing body begins an investigation into whether development funds for the sport were spent on land he owns.

FIFA has asked Worawi to clarify claims that $860,000 in grants was spent on a soccer training facility and a building on land he owned in his home city of Bangkok.

Worawi said the land had been transferred to the Football Association of Thailand; a body of which he is president.

He was quoted in Thai media saying he had already responded to the accusations and was “really disappointed because FIFA should have understood. Their failure to do so has tainted my reputation.”

FIFA said Wednesday that Worawi would face an investigation by its ethics committee, “should there be any evidence of any potential breach of the Code of Ethics.”

“We cannot speculate at this stage if any of the rules and regulations regarding the awarding of a Goal project have been breached.”

The allegations reported by a Swiss business newspaper relate to funds allocated for the FAT’s technical center at Nong Chok district in Bangkok.

The FAT used $460,000 of FIFA funding in 2004 to build a pitch with artificial turf on the land, according to a project report published on FIFA’s website.

The federation received $400,000 in 2007 to build a three-story headquarters providing “the necessary space for professional leadership,” FIFA said.

“The training center has been financed since 2003,” Worawi was quoted to say in The Nation newspaper on Friday. “I have documents to prove this.

“Back then, FIFA itself did not see anything wrong with our application. So why is there a problem now?”

The 59-year-old official has been a member of FIFA’s executive committee for 14 years and is a close ally of Mohamed bin Hammam, who was banned for life by the governing body’s ethics panel in July over alleged election bribery.

Worawi could face his own ethics probe if FIFA believes he might have broken article 5 of the code relating to conflicts of interest.

“Private or personal interests include gaining any possible advantage for himself, his family, relatives, friends and acquaintances,” the code states.

The FIFA Goal project allocates millions of dollars each year to fund the sport in less-developed football nations. It was created by FIFA President Sepp Blatter in 1999, and the committee allocating funds was chaired since then by bin Hammam.

Thailand got the maximum $400,000 grant twice within a four-year period to develop its national center.

It also used $60,000 of its annual $250,000 grant, which all FIFA members receive, toward the artificial turf pitch project. Blatter officially opened it in September 2009.

Worawi has already been quizzed by FIFA investigators as a witness during the bin Hammam investigation.

He accompanied the Qatari to Trinidad in May when Caribbean officials were allegedly offered $40,000 in cash to back a challenge for the FIFA presidency.

On Thursday, FIFA turned down bin Hammam’s appeal against his life ban. He said he would take his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.