By Kenton X. Chance
An executive member of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Football Federation (SVGFF), at the time of the 2014 World Cup ticket scam that led this month to former SVGFF president Venold Coombs being banned for two years, wants the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) to investigate the SVGFF.
Elroy Boucher, who blew the whistle that led to Coombs receiving the FIFA red card as well as a US$40,000 fine, said he had also alerted the FIU to concerns he had about the SVGFF’s financial operations.
Boucher, who left the federation when his term as third vice-president expired in 2015, used an appearance on NICE Radio’s “Sports Highlights” last Wednesday to call for an FIU investigation.
His call came even as he raised questions about the status of an alleged FIU investigation into the operations of the SVGFF, which reportedly began soon after a 2014 World Cup ticket scandal in SVG emerged.
Boucher also expressed concerns that Idris Baptiste, reportedly then an employee of the FIU, began providing accounting services for the SVGFF about the same time as the ticket scandal broke.
Boucher said he had been informed of attempts to bring into St. Vincent and the Grenadines more than half-a-million dollars connected to the tickets.
“But the persons who were bringing in the money had a problem with the source of funds declaration, Boucher said.
“So we had asked FIU to do some investigation. I am very much aware that the investigation started,” he said.
“But I found it rather fishy when, soon after a worker at FIU became the finance person for the federation,” he further said, adding that he asked then FUI director, Grenville Williams, about the development.
“I remember asking Grenville at that particular time how is it that your worker can now be working, having conversations with somebody who is being investigated. And he said don’t worry about it, we know what is happening.”
When contacted on Monday, Williams, who serves as Director, Asset Recovery Unit of the Regional Security System, told iWitness News:
“And I am not even sure those facts are completely accurate either. But I am not in a position to comment on that.”
Asked if he was in a position to say whether the FIU had conducted an investigation into the SVGFF, Williams told iWitness News:
“Well, what I can say, I am no longer the director, but the FIU’s policy is that they generally do not give an indication as to whether or not they are conducting an investigation of any nature.”
Asked if there would be any way for Boucher to know that an investigation was being conducted, maybe as a consequence of him being an executive member of the SVGFF, Williams said:
“One thing that I can say and the only thing I would say is that he would have provided certain information. On that basis, he may have deduced or deemed it reasonable that an investigation may have been undertaken. But, beyond that, no, there would be no way for him to know whether or not an investigation in fact took place.”
Asked if he knew if there is any policy of the FIU regarding its staff offering professional skills that they might have to organisations that may or may not be under investigation by the FIU, Williams said:
“What I would say, professional skills, yes. But I think if it is a voluntary organisation that there is no harm in people being members of community groups, social groups, etc. For example, I was a member of the Rotary Club.”
But Boucher told iWitness News that he and a former SVGFF executive member had met with the FIU twice and two of its investigators had told him that an investigation had been launched.
Meanwhile, separately on Monday, Baptiste declined to say whether he was an employee of the FIU.
“How is that a conflict of interest?” he retorted regarding Boucher’s statement about him (Baptiste), allegedly providing accounting services to the SVGFF reportedly while employed by the FIU when calls were being made for a financial investigation into the SVGFF’s operation.
“I am completely confused not by you calling or asking questions but because of the statement that was made,” Baptiste said.
When told that Boucher had claimed that the FIU was investigating the SVGFF, Baptiste said, “Oh, he is the director now, or the Commissioner of Police? I didn’t know that. I don’t know what you are speaking about.”
Reminded that he was on the record, Baptiste told iWitness News, “You are telling me that Mr. Boucher made a statement, I am unaware of the statement, I am unaware of what was said, or on what medium he made that statement.”
He then inquired about when and where Boucher had made the statement.
When told, Baptiste told iWitness News, “I have no response towards what you are asking but I will follow up and see what statement Boucher made regarding these things.”
Asked if he was, in fact, providing accounting service for the SVGFF, Baptiste said, “I have no statement to make concerning that.”
An SVGFF media release of July 8 lists Baptiste as the group’s accountant, but calls to the SVGFF’s General Secretary Devron Poyer’s cell phone on Monday to verify the accuracy of that information, went unanswered.
Poyer, who has been acting as the SVGFF’s general secretary for some time, was confirmed in that post on July 4, the same day that Marvin Fraser was appointed to act as president after the July 3 ban was imposed on Coombs.
In his radio appearance, Boucher said he was not the only one who had been seeking information about the transactions surrounding the world cup tickets.
He said that former general secretary of the SVGFF, Trevor Huggins, who was suspended and later fired, had written, on the advice of the accountant, to the federation’s lawyer, asking for information.
“To do it officially,” Boucher said, adding that the SVGFF’s regular audit was being conducted at the time.
“… the accountant then had the general secretary write the lawyer seeking the information — because we needed to know [about] the sale of the World Cup tickets.
“If you buy tickets, how much did you sell them for? So for the audit, we needed all of the information. So when he wrote her (the lawyer), and she promised to hand over all the documents, by the time the next day, we already knew and Trevor got his suspension letter — that quick.”
“So what you had, you had an employee of FIU working as the accounts person for the federation amidst all of this corruption that they were supposed to have been investigating. And that person is still the accountant.
“So, now that this thing has come out and the judgment is here, I am of the view that the government needs to find out what went wrong as regards the FIU and their investigation.
“Is it a conflict of interest? Why was it stopped? And how is it that a worker at FIU could be working for the Federation when the FIU was supposed to be investigating? I think that government needs to step in and figure out what has been going on because we don’t want these sorts of things repeating,” he said, referring to the issues that led to Coombs being banned.
“We are a small country and we have to stay above the radar. What has happened to the former president has gone global. You read that in the newspapers in Europe, all over. It puts a stain on our country. But I am of the view that that could have been prevented if, locally, we had done what we were supposed to do. And these are things we have to learn from. I am of the view that the state should really be able to investigate and see what went wrong with the FIU…”
Regarding the process that ultimately led to FIFA banning Coombs, Boucher said that there were a few persons “in the trenches fighting this battle, but they got opposition from people who told themselves that they meant well for football and the people who were themselves involved in the corruption.
“But we had no choice but to expose what we thought was corruption on a large scale,” he said.
He said he welcomes FIFA’s move against Coombs.
“I am not delighted in the sense that the person is affected, because I believe that in each human there is the capacity to change and to humble yourself and realise the mistake you would have made and make a turn around.
“I am delighted in the fact that it sends a message to persons in sports — football dealt with a lot of money — it sends a message that everything must be above board; you must be honest, you must operate with a level of transparency; greed has to be out, self has to be out. It is about the organisation,” Boucher said.