Oceania hires outside lawyer to investigate 'potential wrongdoing'

WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- Amid fresh claims of financial misconduct linked to senior FIFA officials, the Oceania Football Confederation has appointed an external lawyer to lead an investigation into "potential wrongdoing."

The OFC announced the move Monday in fallout from a FIFA audit of the tendering process around a $20 million construction project at its headquarters in Auckland which caused David Chung to unexpectedly resign as president. He also lost his position as FIFA's senior vice president.

The Malaysia-born Chung quit on Friday citing personal reasons, though after FIFA cut funding to Oceania, saying it found "potential irregularities" in the construction process. Chung led the OFC for seven years and his resignation came only two days before the annual meeting of the 14-nation confederation's congress in Auckland.

In resigning, Chung gave up his positions as the most senior of FIFA's eight vice presidents and a member of its ruling council. The OFC Congress decided at its weekend meeting not to appoint a new president, even on an interim basis, until it next meets in June, likely in Moscow ahead of the World Cup.

It said the confederation will be led by the executive committee until an election is held in June. The new president will serve until Chung's tenure would have ended in 2019.

The OFC said the lawyer it had appointed would lead an external investigation into potential wrongdoing and would take legal action if required.

"A forensic audit has been ordered to review, in detail, the processes taken in relation to the OFC Home of Football and the financial processes adopted by the OFC administration in past years," the confederation said in a statement. "The OFC Executive Council has pledged to cooperate with all relevant authorities throughout this process.

"OFC will set up a reform committee to review the current OFC constitution, policy and practice activity."

That committee will be confirmed in June. The statement said the OFC will make no further comment while various investigations are ongoing.

The OFC Home of Football was a project closely associated with Chung, a businessman now living in Papua New Guinea and head of the PNG soccer association since 2004. The confederation announced the project had a budget of $20m, thought to be substantial for a project of its nature.

According to the New York Times, the FIFA audit found Chung and OFC secretary general Tai Nicholas, who resigned in December citing personal reasons, had hired, without issuing a tender, a company to construct the headquarters which had no experience of the work required.

The project would have included an office building, two football fields and other facilities.

Investigators are reported to have found close relationships between the companies advising the OFC on the project and those chosen to complete it.

The Times said all companies were set up shortly before being awarded contracts "with no track record of experience and sub-contracted their works to other companies."

It found a company set up by Chung might have had links to the one hired to work on the project.

Oceania is the sixth and smallest of FIFA's confederations and is composed of 14 nations -- of which 11 are FIFA member federations -- spread across the Pacific, including New Zealand.

Chung succeeded Reynald Temarii, who was forced out of the OFC presidency in 2010 after being caught in a British newspaper's undercover sting into World Cup bid vote-buying.

With important FIFA business pending for the 2026 World Cup host contest, Oceania could appoint an interim member to the FIFA Council to replace Chung at a key June 10 meeting in Moscow. That meeting is set to decide if both candidates -- Morocco and the joint United States-Canada-Mexico bid -- will go ahead to a June 13 vote of the full FIFA membership.