Damian Collins, chairman of the UK government's powerful Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, has received a letter calling for him to open an investigation into the payment of grants by the FIA to its member clubs according to an article in the Daily Express by Christian Sylt.
As Pitpass recently reported, there has already been a call for the government to investigate the grant payments after it came to light that every year since 2015 the FIA has paid money to the Syrian Automobile Club even though it arranges races which are sponsored by president Assad's Ministry of Tourism and are used as propaganda by his Tourism Minister Bishr Yazigi who is subject to European Union sanctions.
This means he is barred from entering Europe and his assets in Europe have been frozen. As the following link shows, Yazigi has sanctions against him because he "shares responsibility for the regime's violent repression against the civilian population."
He has used the races in Syria to whitewash the atrocities there where more than 300,000 people have died according to data from the United Nations (UN). As this Facebook post shows, in 2015 he said that the racing "reflects the strong will of the Syrians and their ability to be renewable and to continue their normal life." In July the following year he said that the racing "reflects the great will of Syrian youth for the continuity of life and for resurrection and new birth." Then, in September 2016 he said "it is worth mentioning that this event is an evidence to the continuity of life in Syria, and the will of life of Syrian People & their confidence in a better future for Syria and to overcome the crisis and war."
There are significant ethical questions as to whether the FIA should be funding the organiser of the races which fuel this delusional propaganda. Although no one is saying that the FIA has broken any sanctions Pitpass understands that this matter is currently being reviewed by the relevant authorities.
Earlier this month, Labour politician Alison McGovern told ITV News she "would welcome our parliament and government taking a very serious look at this issue. They are going to have to explain what's happened here and if they have broken sanctions then absolutely it's a very serious matter and I would expect them to hold their hands up and seriously work to make sure this can never happen again." McGovern added that she "would like for there to be an investigation into this. Whether that's for Britain, perhaps through the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, in parliament or through other means."
Since then the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee has received a formal written request for an investigation which has been driven by the discovery that FIA grant payments have also been racing in the direction of Zimbabwe, Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda and Iran.
Zimbabwe received grants to train officials and fire fighters. Sudan and Iran also received training grants, while the money funded a grass-roots karting programme in Burundi and Rwanda. There is no evidence the clubs that received the grants are owned by their governments or that the projects they have funded are illegitimate. However, the demand for an investigation is fuelled by a more fundamental concern which applies to grants given to clubs in any oppressive regime.
"I am surprised they are giving money to help motor sport in Zimababwe. The country is on its knees with many people in rural areas going without food," says Labour politician and former sports minister Kate Hoey. The letter to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee takes this further.
It was sent by Maddy Crowther, co-Director of human rights group Waging Peace, who told the Express "it's very worrying to hear about this programme. Sudan's government will have a huge stake in the success of motor sport there as a way of signalling it is open for business, and that it is playing with the big boys in the Middle East. A Government inquiry should determine whether F1 funds benefited Sudan's despicable regime as a matter of urgency."
It's not hard to predict that a tyrannical regime will use racing in the country to whitewash its problems and show off to the rest of the world and one would imagine the FIA was aware of this before it began paying these grants. Yet it paid them regardless and now that the payments have been dragged into the spotlight it is facing a backlash.
The Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee is a powerful body which has dug deep into everything from private equity to phone hacking. There isn't a way to avoid attendance when it is requested regardless of how powerful or wealthy the individuals are.
The Murdochs discovered this in 2012 when they were summoned to discuss phone hacking and although they initially resisted, in the end they gave in. Murdoch senior described it as "the most humble day of my life" and was famously hit by a pie-throwing activist there before his ex-wife Wendi Deng rushed to his rescue.
The Select Committee's chairman Damian Collins already has his eye on F1. The grant scheme was launched by the FIA in 2014 and company documents show that it was funded with fees from a new contract with F1's parent firm, which is being scrutinised by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO). Both the FIA and F1 deny that the contract is corrupt. Collins brought it to the SFO's attention and subsequently said that if it doesn't lead to a full-blown investigation he is ready to launch an enquiry himself.
In 2016 alone £2.8m in grants were awarded by the FIA and there is no evidence that the application process itself is improper. F1, the teams and drivers play no part in awarding the grants and the FIA documents detail the requirements that applicants have to meet.
The FIA says improvements were made in December after it requested a compliance analysis from consultancy firm Deloitte which recommended "the strengthening of the monitoring of the use of grants awarded by the FIA."
Acknowledging this, an FIA spokesperson said: "All grants are subject to rigorous internal scrutiny and the FIA will continue to lead the way in ensuring compliance as it strives to put in place best practices. This includes implementing recommendations made by Deloitte following its compliance analysis that was carried out in 2016, at the request of the FIA, to assist it in reaching its compliance goals. This also included the appointment of a new compliance officer to lead oversight and who has recently joined the FIA."
A spokesperson for F1 added "it is not within our remit to influence or determine how the FIA promotes, develops and regulates motor sport, nor how its funds are applied. We are satisfied that we are in full compliance with applicable sanctions."