Theft probe hits Russian football ahead of World Cup
Russia’s World Cup preparations have been hit by an embezzlement probe involving the tournament’s anti-discrimination chief Alexei Smertin.
Moscow’s RBK business news site reported on Sunday that the interior ministry was looking into a complaint filed by Premier League club Dynamo Moscow against its previous leadership.
Dynamo believe at least 1.6 million euros ($2 million) were transferred from the club to shell companies linked to former general director Yevgeny Muravyov.
The money was paid under suspicious contracts signed by Smertin, who is also the team’s executive director.
Smertin serves as the World Cup’s anti-racism inspector and is the go-to official in cases of player or fan abuse.
The 42-year-old was the national team captain in 2004-05 and joined Dynamo’s management in 2013.
RBK said Smertin’s signature also appeared on other dubious financial records unearthed during an audit.
The Izvestia daily had previously quoted a source at Dynamo saying Smertin himself was not suspected of benefiting from the scheme.
Smertin “is not being accused of unscrupulousness”, the source said.
“At the same time, a number of executives believe that he could have approached the documents he was signing more judiciously.”
Dynamo chairman Vladimir Strzhalkovsky told RBK that Smertin “was firmly told to sign” the contracts by the former general director.
Neither Smertin nor the World Cup organising committee in Moscow immediately responded to requests for comment.
Smertin is responsible for raising awareness about racism in Russian football and trying to clean up the domestic game ahead of the June 14-July 15 World Cup.
It is a high-profile role on which world governing body FIFA is placing special emphasis because of racial abuse at Russian matches in the past months.
FIFA has opened disciplinary proceedings against Russia over ape noises heard during a World Cup warmup against France in Saint Petersburg in March.
And Russian football chiefs this week will study similar chanting directed at Cape Verdean midfielder Nuno Rocha during a domestic cup semi-final in Moscow.
Dynamo are a storied club that was backed by the secret police in the Soviet era but has had financial difficulties in more recent years.
They were relegated to Russia’s second division in 2016 and underwent a management overhaul at the start of this year.
Izvestia reported that Smertin was on the verge of being ousted from the club when the fraudulent contracts first came to light in April.
RBK said Smertin signed two contracts now being investigated by police.
The first was a for a sum of 1.3 million euros that changed hands during a player transfer.
A second payment of 300,000 euros went to a firm purportedly hired to study players in eastern Europe that Dynamo could sign.
Both companies allegedly belonged to former general director Muravyov.