GREG GROWDEN August 04, 2012
THE Australian Rugby Union has begun interviewing officials from several premiership clubs as part of its investigation into whether an Australian province has breached salary cap restrictions through an elaborate invoicing system.
The Sun-Herald revealed last month an Australian province was involved in a scheme this year where several of its players were not paid directly by the organisation. Instead the player's club invoiced the province for ''ground hire''.
The province then paid the amount in cash to the club, which passed it on to the player. This way the player's full earnings do not appear on the province's salary list, while it is used as a way of avoiding taxation.
Following the initial report, the ARU began an investigation, which is being conducted by one of its leading and most experienced officials, Matt Carroll. Apart from receiving reports from the five Australian provinces, Carroll is interviewing numerous club officials.
Carroll said yesterday it was uncertain when the ARU inquiry would be completed.
''We have made inquiries with the clubs, and that is ongoing. We would like to have this finalised sooner rather than later,'' Carroll said. ''We have also made inquiries with all of the five Australian franchises, and we will continue doing that as part of our investigation.''
The Herald has been told at least two premiership clubs are involved in the scheme. It is understood the invoices include a sum of $25,000 for a starting Super Rugby player who appeared in the province's back line, and $10,000 to a fringe player, who appeared on the bench as one of the forward back-ups.
But there are growing concerns more players are involved, and a third, and possibly fourth club could be implicated. One player under suspicion is a well-known forward, who played regularly this season.
Waratahs chief executive Jason Allen said on Thursday he was unable to comment on this salary cap issue.
When asked if he could confirm or deny whether the Waratahs were involved in this salary cap breach, Allen said: ''I cannot comment on that situation.'' Allen said only the ARU could comment on the matter.
The ARU recently confirmed the chief executives of the five Australian provinces have to sign a statutory declaration each year declaring that ''everything involving their player salaries is above board''.
If a chief executive is then found to have deliberately misled the ARU, the governing body can institute strict penalties, including large fines and a docking of competition points.
The chief executive's position at the province could also be placed in jeopardy. The investigation could easily hinge on whether the ARU can determine, and then confirm, who within the province actually approved the invoicing scheme.
The Herald has been told that if the clubs do not provide adequate answers within the next week or so, their controlling body has the power to charge them under the code of conduct for ''bringing the game into disrepute''.
It is understood the invoicing system was used midway through this season when the Australian province required replacement players to cover several weak spots in its playing squad. It was also at a time when the five provinces were uncertain what the salary cap amount applied by the ARU would be for the following season. It was finally agreed in late May that the Super Rugby teams would have a salary cap of $4.5 million for the next two years.
After players negotiate with their province, they approach the ARU for a ''top-up'' to their contract. In recent times, the ARU has restricted the number of top-ups.
The ARU now signs about 35 players, slashing the number from 54 contracts four years ago. The players are ranked in value by Wallabies coach Robbie Deans and ARU high-performance manager David Nucifora before being offered top-ups reflecting their position on the pecking order.