By Andrew Warshaw
March 31 – FIFA’s hugely expensive 22-month internal investigation into the bribery and corruption that brought the organisation to its knees has been officially wound up, with mountains of potentially incriminating evidence passed to Swiss law enforcement authorities.
But despite Gianni Infantino’s timely attempt to put a positive spin on today’s announcement, the crisis is by no means over and may well in fact be deepening.
In a statement, FIFA said that more than 1,300 pages “have been shared with the Swiss authorities” but that it was legally prevented from publishing any details or findings following the investigation which was handled by the US law firm Quinn Emanuel.
“FIFA understands and has agreed that the reports will also be made available to the U.S. authorities,” the statement added.
Altogether some 12 million documents were initially collated, narrowed down to 2.5 million files that were examined more closely. “Numerous key witnesses were interviewed,” said FIFA which was brought crashing down in 2015 by the Department of Justice probe into $200 million bribery and money-laundering over a period of 20 years.
Last year Quinn Emanuel revealed that Sepp Blatter, his former number two Jerome Valcke and finance boss Markus Kattner awarded themselves $80 million in pay rises and bonuses over a five year period in “a coordinated effort” to “enrich themselves” between 2011 and 2015. All have since been forced out while several other senior figures are facing trial in the US.
With precision timing five weeks ahead of the FIFA Congress in Bahrain, Infantino, who has sought to maintain FIFA’s victim status since taking over from Blatter, used today’s announcement to focus global attention back on to football.
FIFA, he said, had been “committed to conducting a thorough and comprehensive investigation of the facts so we could hold wrongdoers within football accountable and cooperate with the authorities.”
“We have now completed that investigation and handed the evidence over to the authorities, who will continue to pursue those who enriched themselves and abused their positions of trust in football. FIFA will now return its focus to the game, for fans and players throughout the world.”
That may be wishful thinking, however, with FIFA set to announce new governance structures in April as a result of the now-completed internal investigation.
Whilst the reform process has done much to shake off FIFA’s shameful past, the organisation is by no means out of the woods and needs to protect itself against a shameful future – a protection that even federations are sceptical is in place.
Both the US Department of Justice, whose indictments of a raft of FIFA bigwigs caused total meltdown and a complete rethink, and the Swiss attorney general’s office are continuing with their own probes whilst FIFA’s ethics committee is still very much alive and kicking and free to pursue fresh prosecutions of miscreants under both past and present regimes.
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