Frank Lowy launched his own World Cup 'corruption' probe

the American Australian Association dinner at Randwick Racecourse , AFR NEWs 5th of february 2009, Photo Jessica Hromas Job # 00104955
Rupert Murdoch Chairman and CEO of News Corporation and Frank Lowy Executive Chairman and Co-Founder of Westfield Group.
the American Australian Association dinner at Randwick Racecourse , AFR NEWs 5th of february 2009, Photo Jessica Hromas Job # 00104955 Rupert Murdoch Chairman and CEO of News Corporation and Frank Lowy Executive Chairman and Co-Founder of Westfield Group.

Businessman Frank Lowy was so furious at Australia's humiliation in winning just one vote for its attempt to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, that the Westfield and Football Federation Australia chairman launched a covert private investigation into whether Qatar's winning bid was corrupt.

Code-named Project Platinum, Lowy triggered the multi-million dollar campaign from his suite at the Ritz-Carlton in Doha in early 2011 as he watched Australia progress to the final of the Qatar-hosted 2011 Asian Cup.

Mr Lowy hoped his investigation would find enough evidence to overturn FIFA's controversial Qatar decision and remove the World Cup from Qatar.

But an explosive new book written by former FFA bid executive Bonita Mersiades reveals that, even though Mr Lowy hired some of the world's top private investigators and public relations consultants and had them working around the world from Australia to Thailand and Cyprus, Project Platinum unearthed no evidence of corruption to take the World Cup from Qatar.

Headed by Mr Lowy, and with an official campaign launch in 2009, Australia's disastrous failed bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups cost Australian taxpayers almost $50 million.

The bids became controversial after Fairfax Media revealed that Australia's European-based consultants were led by controversial Swiss-Hungarian football fixer Peter Hargitay and the campaign included a provision of gifts and sometimes opaque and circuitous financial donations to individuals and countries linked to the voting.

However, after Qatar was awarded the 2022 tournament, Mr Lowy tasked Andreas Abold, a German national employed by FFA as a consultant during the failed bid, to launch his backdoor bid to change FIFA's decision.

Mr Lowy also lobbied hard with then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter in Zurich, meeting the soccer boss with Rupert Murdoch and later telling confidantes that Blatter had promised to overturn Qatar's win.

So irritated did Qatar officials become with Project Platinum, that they sent the Westfield chairman a cease and desist notice demanding Lowy call off his investigators.

Mr Lowy's spokesman was approached for comment but did not respond.

Project Platinum was coordinated by American Mark Bieler, a human resources consultant for Westfield whose corporate expertise was rewarded with million dollar payments from the Lowy-chaired company over several years.

The investigative team also included James Pavitt, a former Deputy Director of Operations for the CIA and officer in the agency's clandestine service. The investigation also engaged global risk management firm TD International, an organisation that claims to "gain access, influence events, monetize opportunities".

Willing to cooperate with Project Platinum was former MI6 agent Christopher Steele - now known as the author of the "Trump dossier," which detailed alleged compromising information on US President Donald Trump.

Mr Steele at the time he was cooperating with Mr Lowy's team was also investigating Russia's World Cup bid.

Project Platinum's top shelf American investigators would video conference with Mr Lowy, his son (and current FFA Chairman) Steven, and Lowy adviser Mark Ryan, who were based in Sydney.

"If we have a mobile phone number, we have everything," Mr Pavitt said of the group's investigatory prowess at one meeting, according to the book.

Ultimately, however, the investigation found no evidence of corruption by the Qatar bid.

In 2013, Hassan Al-Thawadi, the former CEO of Qatar's winning bid - now Secretary General of Qatar's Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy for the 2022 World Cup - visited Sydney to meet Lowy. In an example of the complex world of international business and sports politics, the Qatari wanted to discuss his possible candidacy for FIFA's Executive Committee and gauge Mr Lowy's support.

As described in Ms Mersiades' book, Whatever It Takes, Ms Lowy was eager to ask Mr Al-Thawadi how Qatar won the 2022 bid.

Mr Al-Thawadi was blunt: "We worked hard. We went to places and you weren't there. Australia just didn't turn up."

Ms Mersiades' book details the dynamics within the flawed Australian bid, the fallout from Ms Mersiades' sacking, her experience as a whistleblower, investigations into the bid by FIFA and the FBI, and subsequent efforts to discredit her by individuals, FFA, and FIFA.

She pursued her own investigation into Australia's 2018 and 2022 bids after being fired from FFA following clashes with Mr Hargitay.

Though Project Platinum's investigators failed to find a smoking gun in Qatar's bid, Westfield adviser Mr Bieler located a source in the UK in possession of digital documents, many of which related to former Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed Bin Hammam.

Mr Bin Hammam, a Qatari, had planned to run against Sepp Blatter for FIFA's presidency but was banned for life by FIFA for conflicts of interest while AFC President.

Some of the information acquired by Mr Bieler was published in a series of reports critical of Qatar in Britain's Sunday Times - owned by Murdoch - and became the basis of the book The Ugly Game, which claimed the Qataris "bought" the 2022 World Cup.

Former FIFA President Sepp Blatter told Ms Mersiades in an interview last November about a 2012 meeting at FIFA's Zurich headquarters attended by Frank Lowy and Rupert Murdoch. Mr Murdoch, a close friend of Mr Lowy, had a significant interest in the World Cup because of TV rights deals - especially in the United States, which was a candidate for 2022.

Mr Blatter said the meeting with Mr Lowy was memorable because Murdoch was locked out of FIFA's building by a malfunctioning door.

"The alarm was ringing," Mr Blatter recalled.

"It was very funny. Rupert Murdoch locked out of FIFA. He was on the outside. We were on the inside."

Whatever It Takes by Bonita Mersiades is published by Powderhouse Press.Author proceeds will be donated to the Pararoos, Australia's cerebral palsy football team.

This story Frank Lowy launched his own World Cup 'corruption' probe first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.