Transfer spending is increasing globally as some countries recover from the economic downturn, says a Fifa official, while questioning if clubs are hiding money from some player moves.
The first half of this year saw US$929 million of international player trading, 40 per cent more than the US$664 million for the same period last year, and closer to the US$855 million in 2011.
"Certainly the economic fortunes of certain countries are getting better, others are falling," said Kimberly Morris, who oversees integrity at Fifa's transfer unit. "I think people are maybe feeling a bit more optimistic on the whole and that may be the reason there is an increase. There is certainly a clear increase."
The costliest deal in the summer transfer window in Europe so far has seen 21-year-old Brazil forward Neymar join Barcelona from Santos for €57 million (HK$760 million).
English clubs tend to be the biggest spenders, and the most expensive Premier League import this summer has been Brazil midfielder Fernandinho, who was bought from Shakhtar Donetsk by Manchester City for £30 million (HK$352 million).
Registering cross-border deals with Fifa's Transfer Matching System has been mandatory since 2010 in a bid to curb money laundering and corrupt deals. The online system requires buying and selling clubs to input matching information, including payment schedules, before a transfer is approved.
Speaking at a World Sports Law Report conference in London, Morris questioned why the US$929 million this year has been generated by only 12 per cent of deals, with the rest appearing to be free moves. Morris highlighted how the "bulk of transfers don't generate the bulk of wealth".
"As a lawyer and as a compliance person I'm curious to know whether … that's actually representative or whether there's a lot of money that's not being captured. Because 12 per cent and almost a billion dollars is a really an interesting discrepancy," she said.
Morris is also concerned that some free transfers might be used to avoid taxes.
"There is some very interesting activity, particularly with Brazil-Uruguay and Argentina-Uruguay where payers are moving for free and then being loaned out, where the money resides in the tax haven of Uruguay," she said. "And that's something we are looking at and considering why it is happening."
Fifa has shown it will sanction clubs that break its transfer rules, with Argentine club Independiente and Italian side Genoa fined this year.
In a blocked deal for defender Julian Velazquez, Independiente tried to charge Genoa for a document that should have been provided for free. Genoa was also fined US$37,000 for failing to submit documents to Fifa's online process.
"What you are seeing is a much bigger appetite at the disciplinary committee level - as you saw with the Genoa-Independiente case - to impose sanctions that have some teeth," Morris said.
"Because if you fine a club US$35,000, that's going to maybe have a difference to their bottom line rather than just US$5,000. If the fines get bigger and the fines get more pronounced it's going to have a knock-on effect in terms of the behaviour you see."