Australia defends funding grant to Trinidad

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BRISBANE, Australia (AP)

The Australian football federation has defended a decision to fund a stadium upgrade in Trinidad, highlighted in a damaging ethics report into former FIFA powerbroker Jack Warner, saying it was fulfilling its mandatory requirements in the World Cup bidding process.

A report by the Confederation of North and Central American and Caribbean Football ethics and integrity committee last week accused Warner and former secretary general Chuck Blazer of ''enriching themselves through fraud'' in running the sport's regional governing body.

In one instance, the report questioned what happened to $462,200 in Australian funding for the Havelange Center in Warner's home country of Trinidad and Tobago.

FFA provided the money to upgrade a stadium at the center around September 2010, during the time it was campaigning for votes in its failed bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

Football Federation Australia said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press that it was considering the findings of the integrity committee report and had contacted CONCACAF.

The ethics report said the Australian funds "were not accounted for in the CONCACAF general ledger or reported as income in its financial statements for 2010'' but instead was deposited into a ''comingled'' account that included Warner's personal money.

''This funding related to the mandatory FIFA World Cup bidding criteria,'' Kyle Patterson, FFA head of corporate affairs, said. ''FFA was required to demonstrate its credentials in the area of international development.''

Patterson said the funding of preliminary design and feasibility works for a CONCACAF Centre of Excellence in Trinidad was ''one of a range of international development projects FFA undertook.''

''All were reported to the Australian Government. The funds were allocated from FFA's international football development budget at the time and were not part of government funds provided to the World Cup bid,'' he said.

Patterson declined to comment further.

The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported Australia's connection to the ethics report Tuesday under the headline: FIFA official `stole' Australian cash.

The Australian newspaper's headline staged: FIFA man Jack Warner `took FFA's World Cup money'.

Warner quit as national security minister of Trinidad and Tobago late Sunday, some 48 hours after the report was presented in Panama City. He retired from his world and regional football posts in 2011.

The Havelange Center was built in Trinidad and Tobago on land allegedly owned by Warner's companies in 1995 and received almost $26 million in funding, mostly from football's world governing body, over the following decade.

The Australian funding in Trinidad heightened questions over its failed bid for the World Cup, which was backed by a $45 million in government funding.

Former FFA head of corporate affairs Bonita Mersiades questioned the secrecy of the funding in a column for website Sports Biz Insider, asking when did FFA realize it was ''being taken for a ride.''

''They certainly didn't want to believe it when I told them - on numerous occasions,'' said Mersiades, who added that she'd been fired in January 2010.

''Alarm bells should have been ringing as soon as they saw the bust of Joao Havelange at the front of the complex,'' she wrote, adding that the complex contained a hotel, swimming pool, convention center, multi-storey health club and the Marvin Lee football stadium. ''But somehow, a visiting Australian delegation decided it was worthwhile spending $462,200 of our hard-earned money on `upgrading' the Marvin Lee stadium. What for?''

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