An Iranian citizen journalist, who writes under a pseudonym to protect his identity, wrote the following article on the ground inside Iran.
When Ali Kafashian was the president of Iran’s Football Federation he never tired of repeating one sentence: “Unlike all other federations, we are audited by two authorities: The General Inspection Office and the Ministry of Sports.”
But now it appears that audits by two authorities were not enough to ensure transparency and good conduct. Kafashian has now been replaced by Mehdi Taj, and the double-auditing is ongoing, but the whereabouts of a cash reward that the International Football Federation (FIFA) paid Iran’s Football Federation remains unknown.
FIFA allocated eight million dollars to each team that won its way to the 2014 World Cup — minus its share of the costs for the teams’ preparations. FIFA also agreed to pay part of the costs for the 32 teams that competed in the event.
“Due to the sanctions, FIFA is unable to deposit this amount to the Iranian federation’s account,” Ali Kafashian told the newspaper Iran in early spring 2014 when he was the federation’s president. In September that year, he told newspaper Etemad: “We have agreed with FIFA that they will deposit the money in two or three installments into the account the federation has opened in the United Arab Emirates.” But in December 2014, before the AFC Asian Cup games were to start, he said: “Our money in the UAE has been blocked. We must find a way to bypass these sanctions.”
The details of this “bypass” hold the key to the mystery of the missing eight million dollars.
Money Deposited into a Personal Account
On February 12, 2018, during a TV debate with Mohammad Reza Saket, the football federation’s secretary, retired Iranian football star and current coach Ali Karimi raised the name of Houshang Moghaddas. “What happened to the dollars from the previous World Cup?” he asked. “FIFA’s money has been deposited into another person’s account. How can Mr. Houshang Moghaddas deposit FIFA’s money into his own personal account? You know very well that the responsible authorities want a list of these deposits. Why have you never talked about this?”
Karimi was angry, but what he said was not unfounded. So who is Houshang Moghaddas?
Moghaddas, an Iranian businessman based in the UAE, first appeared on Iran’s football scene with Ali Kafashian in the early 2000s, when he developed close ties to Kafashian. When Kafashian moved from the National Olympics Committee to the National Football Federation, Moghaddas became an influential figure in Iranian football, and was appointed deputy head of the football board in Shiraz under Hadi Ayatollahi, who had been Kafashian’s deputy at the football federation.
Moghaddas held no official position within the federation, but he was frequently involved. In 2014, Carlos Queiroz, the head coach of Iran’s national football team, told Kafashian that he wanted Moghaddas to be the International Relations Advisor for the federation. But later Moghaddas preferred to act as a behind-the-scenes financial intermediary instead.
Perhaps a small part of the good relations between Queiroz and Houshang Moghaddas has something to do with the head coach’s contract. “If the Iranian national team ascends to the World Cup,” reads a clause in the addendum to the contract, “10 percent of the amount that the federation receives from FIFA for going to the World Cup will belong to the coaching team. The head coach must distribute this money in the best way after consulting the coaching team, and the federation is not responsible for how the decision is made. The federation must pay this amount within five to seven days after receiving the award from FIFA.”
No Evidence, No Documentation
It was Ali Karimi who reported that the FIFA money had been deposited into the private account of Houshang Moghaddas, and that auditing authorities were looking into it. In September 2017, the General Inspection Office asked Ali Kafashian — for a third time — to provide documents related to the FIFA money. But as of now nothing has been done. And in July, both the General Inspection Office and the Iranian Football Federation’s Ethics Committee asked Kafashian to provide documents about $316,000 missing from FIFA’s prize money. Again, so far nothing has been done.
The question, however, is not limited to the $316,000 — there has also been a lot of talk about other missing money. On November 1, 2017, the newspaper Khabar-e Varzeshi (“Sports News”) reported that $500,000 of the FIFA award had gone missing. “The representative of Iran’s federation [meaning Houshang Moghaddas] who had traveled to Switzerland noticed that only $550,000 remained of what was owed Iran,” the article said. “When he asked FIFA’s officials about the $500,000 he was told: ‘we gave the money to IFMARK (Iran Football Medical Assessment and Research Center). They wanted funds to buy medical equipment and we paid them with your money.’”
The newspaper also mentioned Ms. Zahra Haratian, the head of IFMARK and claimed that FIFA had never contributed to the organization. A day later, Carlos Queiroz — accompanied by Houshang Moghaddas as usual — told the Young Journalists Club: “The national team’s money has been disappeared by a lady.”
So the IFMARK money has “disappeared,” but there is no explanation offered as to why more than half of FIFA’s award went into the personal account of Houshang Moghaddas or what happened to the missing $316,000.
Following the signing of the nuclear agreement and the partial lifting of sanctions, Iran’s Football Federation was able to close its UAE account and receive the rest of its money directly from FIFA, but even then Houshang Moghaddas was the financial intermediary. As Ali Karimi pointed out, even after the nuclear agreement was settled, the money was deposited into an account belonging to Houshang Moghaddas.
After four years, there is still no evidence about what happened to FIFA’s $8 million prize money to Iran. Soon, however, the football federation will be required to provide new documents about the $12 million — four million dollars more than the last World Cup — that FIFA is due to award Iran for making it to the 2018 World Cup.
Pedram Ghaemi, Citizen journalist