By Andrew Warshaw
March 16 – The full extent of football’s worst ever corruption scandal has been sensationally laid bare by FIFA which is demanding to be paid back “tens of millions of dollars” pocketed illegally by a raft of disgraced powerbrokers who brought the organisation to its knees and have pleaded guilty in the US-led probe into widespread bribery.
In an unprecedented request for damages to the US government citing its victim status and timed to coincide with the start of its much-trumpeted reform process which it hopes will herald a new era of openness, FIFA says that over many years, those charged “grossly abused their positions of trust to enrich themselves” and “deeply tarnished the FIFA brand.”
In detailed legal documents submitted to the US authorities, officially called a Request for Restitution and naming 41 of the 42 individuals and entities indicted thus far, FIFA said its reputation had been seriously impaired through bribery and kickbacks by those who were in positions of power, accusing them of “brazen corruption.”
In its submission, FIFA admitted for the first time that vote-buying took place in the bid process for the 2010 World Cup hosted by South Africa, sending alarm bells through the sport, not least when it comes to the controversial ballot that handed the 2018 tournament to Russia and 2022 to Qatar, both still the subject of a separate investigation.
“The damage done by the defendants’ greed cannot be overstated,” FIFA said. “While the investigation continues, the loss amounts are believed to be at least in the tens of millions of dollars.”
Clearly holding disgraced one-time figureheads such as Jack Warner, Chuck Blazer and Jeffrey Webb accountable for much of the damage inflicted, FIFA insists that any monies it recovers will be ploughed back into its development programmes – and will not be misused again.
“To date the (US) government has ensured the forfeiture of more than $190 million in assets and identified, recovered, or frozen more than $100 million in the United States and abroad relating to the defendants’ felonious schemes,” the submission said.
“These funds should be used to compensate the victims of the defendants’ crimes, particularly FIFA and its member associations and confederations.”
One name conspicuous by its absence in FIFA’s submission is that of Sepp Blatter, under whose 18-year tenure most of the alleged bribery and corruption took place and who was replaced last month by Gianni Infantino.
Blatter is himself banned for alleged malpractise but could not be cited because his case falls under the separate probe by Swiss authorities who have opened criminal proceedings against him but have not yet laid charges.
Although the restitution request was painstakingly prepared over several months by FIFA’s legal team, it is understood that Infantino, elected less than three weeks ago, was given an extensive briefing and played a crucial role in giving the green light to go after those who had abused their positions and who are on the 42-strong US indictment list including Blazer, Warner and Webb.
While Warner, banned for life last year by FIFA’s ethics committee, has not yet been extradited to the United States or entered a plea, FIFA’s lawyers are understood to believe the corruption allegations against the former FIFA vice-president and CONCACAF chief are indisputable and that he would be convicted before a US court of law.
“The convicted defendants abused the positions of trust they held at FIFA and other international football organisations and caused serious and lasting damage to FIFA, its member associations and the football community,” Infantino said in a strongly-worded statement. “The monies they pocketed belonged to global football and were meant for the development and promotion of the game. FIFA as the world governing body of football wants that money back and we are determined to get it no matter how long it takes.”
“The defendants diverted this money not just from FIFA but from players, coaches and fans worldwide who benefit from the programmes that FIFA runs to develop and promote football. These dollars were meant to build football fields, not mansions and pools; to buy football kits, not jewellery and cars; and to fund youth player and coach development, not to underwrite lavish lifestyles for football and sports marketing executives. When FIFA recovers this money, it will be directed back to its original purpose: for the benefit and development of international football.”
With most of those charged by the US justice authorities coming from CONCACAF and CONMEBOL, FIFA risks the two confederations making their own separate claims for misconduct over marketing and TV rights. But FIFA legal sources have made it clear there is no conflict and that all the parties will be working together.
How much money FIFA will actually manage to recover, and when, is open to question, however. Much will depend on what sums become available once the various trials and sentences take place which could be several months away.
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