MANILA, Philippines — The mentor of Tokyo Olympian EJ Obiena believes that the issues regarding the payment of coaches surfaced only because the system currently being used by Philippine athletics is broken.
According to American businessman and psychologist James Michael Lafferty, who has helped Obiena over the years, accusations that Coach Vitaly Petrov was unpaid are untrue because there was compensation made, albeit late and not using the money given by the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (Patafa).
Lafferty explained during the House committee on youth and sports development hearing on Tuesday that athletes like Obiena are forced to use their own money or make amends just to pay for their coaches’ services because national sports agencies pay athletes later than the expected date.
“The system, which is no fault of Patafa, and no fault to the PSC — they’ve inherited it — the system is broken on how liquidations is done. I have been the one who helped hire the third party internal auditors, they are still doing their work, they are flabbergasted at the system that is put in place that would never be in place in any corporation,” he said.
“It basically forces an athlete to front the money, and they only get reimbursed after a long period of time. So it requires an athlete to have money to begin with, and when they don’t have money to begin with, they’re in a constant system of managing cashflow,” he added.
Prior to Lafferty’s explanation, the world No. 6 pole vaulter already insisted that he asked Patafa to directly make the payments to Petrov so that he would not have to concern himself with accounting.
But aside from that, Lafferty also noted that the way Obiena is being paid is actually flawed because he gets money in Philippine Peso, when he and his coach are currently in Europe for training. What Obiena does, he said, is to ask him to transfer the funds to Petrov in Euros, in exchange for paying Lafferty in Pesos — like a money transfer and money exchange shop.
The result is that payments and transfers directed to Petrov’s account comes from different bank accounts — including Lafferty’s bank account based in Dubai and Obiena’s own German bank account.
NO MONEY LAUNDERING
“A lot of (the things that) have been put on the press, Mr. Chairman, is that none of the payments came from Patafa. Well of course they didn’t, because Patafa doesn’t pay the coach directly. They say they only come from the strange places like Dubai and Germany, and Manila, well it’s a very simple explanation […] The Dubai bank account is me, and the German bank account is EJ,” Lafferty said.
“EJ lives in Europe, he needs a Euro bank account. Why are we making this into an international intrigue, and by indirect means making it look like some kind of money laundering. There’s nothing going on here,” he added.
Lafferty said the scheme started in November 2020, as he was approached by Obiena to transfer the funds to Petrov in Euros. He willingly supported the athlete, but when the pole vaulter wanted to transfer P2.5 million to his account, he protested as he is no longer staying in Manila.
What happened, according to Lafferty, was Petrov being paid in tranches, which Obiena would then transfer to Lafferty’s Manila bank account.
“That was how the 10,374 and the 10,500 was done. Now, what EJ did was to wire me P100,000 in tranches, 13 different wires, to my bank account in Manila, and I pay the prevailing BSP rates to his coach in Euro. This is not my private money, I have paid lots of private money for EJ, well over a million peso. But on this particular thing, he reimbursed me,” he said.
“And then EJ comes back to me at the last minute and says ‘hey I just got a check from Puma for breaking the Asian record, I can actually pay you back in Euros. Would you prefer that?’. I said ‘yes, I don’t need more peso’. I still have the peso in 2020 sitting in my bank account,” he added.
He said that this issue can be solved by providing athletes with a revolving fund, which they should return by the end of their service.
But the accusations against Obiena, he said, are unfair as it has affected the young athlete’s reputation with sponsors having second thoughts about supporting him due to the issues that popped up.
However, he also claimed that he believes Patafa has done nothing wrong too, except for its approach which was already incriminating, as Obiena was ordered to return the money immediately.
“I have to defend him he has a whole life ahead of him, he’s 26 years old, you Google his name now, and the words come up — embezzlement, theft, 85,000 euros, returning money, in controversy — the kid is ruined from a reputation standpoint. And it’s heartbreaking, […] all of his endorsers have come to him with questions and concerns and some want to cancel the contract because his name has been sullied,” he said.
“In my opinion there’s been no crime on either side. Patafa has every right to check and to follow up on the concerns that they have with taxpayers’ money. EJ has also not committed a crime: there’s three basis for this sir, and I ask this committee that you can fix most of these,” he added.
Patafa is in hot water for allegedly harassing Obiena, after it ordered the athlete to return 85,000 euros (over P4.8 million pesos) in financial assistance after he allegedly failed to pay Vitaly.
Obiena denied the claims, and Petrov eventually clarified his statement that he was being paid properly by the athlete, and that he only wanted the process to be made faster as Obiena was making advances in behalf of the government.
Earlier, Patafa president Philip Juico and Obiena faced during the hearing, with Obiena claiming that he felt that the Patafa official was sabotaging his Olympic bid and his development just because of animosity.
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