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Government begins looking into FIA grants

NEWS STORY
15/11/2017

An investigation spearheaded by ITN's News at Ten in the UK recently revealed that in recent years the FIA has given motorsport grants to a number of countries where, to most, outwardly the concept of motorsport would be the last thing on anyone's mind.

Zimbabwe, which even as you read this appears to be undergoing a military coup, was given a grant in order to train officials and fire fighters, while Burundi and Rwanda used their FIA grants for grass-roots karting programmes.

Among various other instances of the sport's governing body granting money to dubious regimes, perhaps the most controversial is the money handed over to the Syrian Automobile Club (SAC) where events are sponsored by Bashar al-Assad's Ministry of Tourism.

While the grants were paid to develop racing in the war-torn country, Tourism Minister Bishr Yazigi is said to be using the events for promotion and propaganda purposes.

Indeed, adopting a 'nothing to see here' attitude of almost Comical Ali proportions, in 2015 the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), reported Yazigi as saying that; "the Ministry of Tourism supports and encourages everything that could deliver a true image about the Syrians who are still practising their works, activities and hobbies despite of the fierce war launched against them by the enemies of humanity".

A year later, he claimed that racing "reflects the great will of Syrian youth for the continuity of life and for resurrection and new birth".

"The importance of this event comes from the importance and privacy of this place representing the coming back of life to this area." he added, subsequently claiming that "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 and their confidence in a better future for Syria and to overcome the crisis and war".

Quite.

Due to sanctions imposed by the European Union, Yazigi is barred from entering any of its countries and any assets he has there have been frozen. Filings state that there are restrictions against him because he "shares responsibility for the regime's violent repression against the civilian population".

In other words, the FIA repeatedly gave grants to the Syrian Automobile Club even though it was public knowledge that it arranges races which are sponsored by Assad's Ministry of Tourism and are used as propaganda by his Tourism Minister who is subject to EU sanctions.

In the wake of the initial investigation, Maddy Crowther, co-director of human rights group Waging Peace, called on the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee to look into the grants, while Select Committee chairman Damian Collins subsequently alerted Stephen Barclay, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, as it investigates suspected breaches of sanctions through its Office for Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI).

Forbes reveals, that on 17 October, Barclay replied (right) to Collins, stating that: "it is of course important that we ensure full compliance with financial sanctions which are an important foreign policy and national security tool. I have passed this information to the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation. They have contacted Waging Peace and may engage with other appropriate parties in relation to the information provided."

While there is no disputing the legitimacy of the projects or the application process, as Waging Peace makes clear, oppressive regimes can use the racing which is funded by the grants for promotion as the "government will have a huge stake in the success of motor sport there as a way of signalling it is 'open for business'".

It's understood that the OFSI has is now contacting relevant parties who are being asked to complete forms with the heading: 'Disclosure of suspected breach of financial sanctions in contravention of EU regulations'.

According to Forbes, "company documents show that the FIA's grant scheme was established with funds from the F1 governance contract it signed with the rights holder of the series which is registered in the United Kingdom", which accounts for why it is the British government that is leading enquiries into the grants.

Completely separately however, payments made under the F1 governance contract are themselves the subject of preliminary investigations by fraud authorities in both the UK and France though all parties deny that it is corrupt.

In 2015, having been called in by the FIA to carry out a compliance analysis of its activities, consultancy firm Deloitte made several recommendations after identifying a number of "risks". These included "strengthening of the monitoring of the use of grants awarded by the FIA."

It is not clear why Deloitte felt the need to make this recommendation as the FIA has refused to provide a copy of its analysis even though the highlights of it are listed under the heading 'Compliance: Ensuring Transparency' in the FIA's 2016 Activity Report.

"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," said an FIA spokesperson. "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."

The Deloitte "report fully endorsed the functioning of the existing grants programme, while recommending minor process improvements," said the spokesperson, adding: "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."

It remains to be seen if the OFSI is equally satisfied.

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1. Posted by Max Noble, 15/11/2017 10:48

"Que German already in prison saying it was all him... :-). "

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