The only way to know is to check

Photo: Thomas Søndergaard/Play the Game

Jean-Yves Lourgouilloux (right) speaking at Play the Game 2017. Photo: Thomas Søndergaard/Play the Game


Conference presentation by Jean-Yves Lourgouilloux
… and when the French state prosecutor and his colleagues started checking rumours on international sports corruption, most turned out true. But criminal investigations come with many practical hurdles, Jean-Yves Lourgouilloux told in an exposé to Play the Game 2017 in Eindhoven.

Presentation given at play the Game 2017:
It is a great honour and also a great opportunity for me to talk before such an impressive audience.

I would like to congratulate the organisation, except for one point. They didn't apply the article 24 of the Olympic Charter making French one of the two official languages.

So, as you may have already noticed, from my slight French accent, English is not my native language. So please, forgive me in advance. I doped my English these last days but I am not sure it will be sufficient to make a good performance today.

And if I don't answer your question within a few minutes, please rest assured that it won't be because I try to avoid them but just because I probably don't understand them. Or pretend not to...

I have only 12 minutes – now 11- to talk about my subject: international investigations in sport: the hurdles for the prosecutor.

If I had a little more time, I would also have had the opportunity to give you updated news about the on-going criminal investigations, some exclusive and relevant information on them... But anyway...

The point is: In what ways is it difficult to be a prosecutor dealing with international corruption case in sport?

« plus loin, plus haut, plus fort» (some french words...)

This is obviously the Olympic motto but also the one of the prosecution service I belong to.

This service is the Parquet National Financier, also called PNF, also called «French prosecutors» in newspapers or at conferences. It could be translated to the National Financial Prosecution Service.

The service was created in 2014 in France. Our creation was a revolution. For the first time a prosecution unit with a national juridiction to deal with the most complex and sensitive financial crime was created.

Logically, corruption is one of our main subjects of interested (like fraud tax and money laundering). Domestic corruption, but also international corruption as far as France or French citizens are concerned.

So when we started we had to deal with old cases – old and sometimes cold – already opened, but we also had the opportunity to work on new cases and even to explore new fields of competence.

Our second motto is: «where there is money, there is corruption – where there is a lot of money, there is a lot of corruption».

So, as a kind of evidence, some of my colleagues and myself decided to investigate the marvelous world of business in sport.

Everybody was talking about corruption in sport organisations. Journalists didn't stop to discover evidence of corruption and then...What happened? Nothing. Or, almost nothing...

Rumors or real financial crimes? The only way to know was to check.

Why? Just because all kinds of financial crimes need to be punished.

And also because who else than justice could pretend to put an end to that kind of corruption?

How could one expect that international sport organisations would do the job when some of their members are corrupted themselves?

Dealing with 20 criminal cases
When we started, we were very far from believing that we would find such a critical situation. And it is very far from being finished.

So we were on the starting line. And we started from nothing.

We are now dealing with 20 criminal cases. Some of them are major ones:

  • suspected corruption in IAAF about cover-up of doping in Russia
  • suspected corruption in IAAF about the choice of athletics World Championship cities,
  • suspected corruption in IOC about the choice of Olympic Games cities,
  • suspected corruption in FIFA about Football World Cup countries.

One of the main question we had to answer to is:

«Is it possible to be elected for the organisation of a major sport competition without corrupting voters?»

We are starting to guess the answer.

The World Cup is political! Olympics Games are political! Political is often a way to say corrupted.

«A little bit crooked» as Barack Obama said in his last interview as President about the Copenhagen vote in October 2009 for 2016 Olympics Games... Why a little bit?...

These events are above all a good way to make huge amounts of money (with public funds). And that means that all the ways are available to win.

Once, I asked a senior police investigator. I asked him: « Quelle est la différence entre lobbying et corruption? » What is the difference between lobbying and corruption?

He replied: «C'est pareil, lobbying c'est le mot anglais pour corruption». It is the same. Lobbying is the English word for corruption.

50,000 dollars, 300,000 dollars, 1 million, 2 million, 5 million, 22 million paid to influent members, to voters or to their close partners. Is this lobbying?

Ha! So why do you use shell companies, intermediate people and offshore bank accounts?

You do not lose what you win through corruption
And what is the problem? Even if one day, somebody try to investigate it, you will first say «it is rumors», and then «we didn't know!» and at the end of the day, you will never loose what you won thanks to corruption.

The other competitors will never say anything. Maybe because they were corrupted as well and maybe also because they know you have to keep silent if you want to have it one day.

Tokyo lost 2016. They won 2020.

«Tokyo were able to secure some really heavyweight, influential votes – to me that was the key. Once you secure those big leaders, those influential voters within the IOC, then things start going your way quite quickly.»

Who is talking? It is not me. It is one of the responsible who worked for Tokyo Bid. How do you secure the heavyweight, influential votes? I wonder...

I am not talking about rumors. I am talking about amounts, offshore bank accounts, shell companies, witnesses...

I am talking about people dismissed, arrested and charged. I am talking about people convicted.

So we started from almost nothing and we quickly made steps forward in few years, trough IAAF, IOC and FIFA cases.

But it was not an easy job.

Full independence is needed
First of all, when you are a prosecutor, you need to be supported by your hierarchy and not to be hindered by political pressures.

Because, as everybody knows, all these matters are close to politics. You all know that «heavy-weight» international sport organisation members or presidents have quite the same rank as a president of a State. Often they are friends, they have dinner together. They give medals to each others.

So impossible to work on it if the Justice is not completely independent.

That was the case for us. I have always been supported by my boss, Eliane Houlette, who some of you may know, and I have never been hindered by political pressures.

But that is not enough.

Above all you need to have something to start on. Journalists, anti-corruption associations, whistleblowers from all over the world are decisive. Without them, we couldn't do anything.

How many times have we all heard about journalists’ work: «it is all rubbish, it is rumours». And how many times have we discovered, later, that is was not.

We couldn't have even started some of our major cases without the previous work of independent journalists. And I stress the word ‘independent’.

No IAAF case (or even IOC case) without ARD and Hajo Seppelt. And without WADA as well but thanks to ARD’s work first.

No FIFA case without Sunday Times or France Football. We wouldn't be able to work on 2018 and

2022 World Cup without it.

I can put my hand up because I read The Ugly Games written by Heidi Blake and Jonathan

Calvert (In French version...). I found it was an impressive work.... very, very interesting and documented.

Most of the time it is confirmed
What do we do when we have this kind of information?

Easy: We check. And guess what? Most of the time it is  confirmed.

When one of the most serious French investigative newspapers wrote that the president of one of the most influent football associations received 22 million dollars on a bank account in Monaco the month after the vote for a world cup from a businessman who is a citizen of the winner country, what would you do? Just say «Rumors» or check. You check and you try to find from where the money came from and went to?

Whistleblowers are also very important. They do really need to be protected. Just because most of the time they put their life in danger.

And please, members of international sports federations, when you receive a letter from an athlete talking about corruption in her sport at a high level, just don't send the letter to the president of the sport federation of his country. What happens? The athlete quickly writes another letter saying she was lying. We discover few years later she wasn't.

And please, don't try to make your own justice, alone, secretly. This is clearly not your job, except if you want to cover it up.

There are some people very used to this kind of situations, called prosecutors. Don't hesitate to tell them. And if you can find a link to France or a French citizen, call me.

Great complexity, lack of laws
Another obstacle is about the lack of efficient criminal law. In France, we can easily work on criminal cases with private corruption and money laundering offenses. But you must know that in some countries, like Japan or Brasil, private corruption it is not even an offense. In Switzerland it is quite newly the case.

So it is sometimes difficult to cooperate with these countries because they could reply it is not an offense in their country.

Another major obstacle is the complexity of the cases. Most of the time, bribes are not directly paid by bid committees (even if it could sometimes happens) but by intermediate people, businessmen most often, using a lot of shell companies, with bank accounts in off shore countries.

We are quite used to this kind of work, but that means you need more and more mutual assistance with countries which sometimes don't want to cooperate or only pretend to cooperate.

In that matter, the international cooperation we had with Brazil was just perfect. It was easier to work with my Brazilian colleagues than with some French ones...

The worst experience in that matter is of course Senegal. This country clearly explained us that they would not cooperate with us.

Sport and state should exchange information
One of our enemies is time. All these enquiries need a lot of time because they are complex and involve several countries.

This is clearly not compatible with sport organisations’ ethical procedures. Ethic committees need to make a decision quickly. And it is clearly not easy because they haven't got the same power of investigation and they haven't even got access to the criminal procedure. That's why we should find a system which could make possible to share information. For the benefit of all.

But the most serious obstacle to overcome is doubtless the lack of human means for investigation.

One day a journalist asked me if there was a political pressure on a major case because he thought that the investigation was going slowly. As a reply I asked him: do you know how many investigators are working on this case...One...And he has 4 other cases like this to work on.

That is clearly the main problem.

But, even if it takes time at the end, we usually find the answers to our questions. It is just a question of time and determination.

Merci beaucoup

This text was first presented on Monday 27 November during Play the Game 2017 in Eindhoven.


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