By Andrew Warshaw and Paul Nicholson
March 24 – FIFA’s efforts to distance the regime of Gianni Infantino from the previous administration of Sepp Blatter and Jerome Valcke have taken another significant step with both former powerbrokers suffering fresh bans at the hands of the organisation’s ethics apparatus.
However questions have been raised over whether the ban is actually outside FIFA’s own time bar limitations of five years for the kind of offence that FIFA Ethics have banned them for.
Blatter and his one-time right-hand man have been banned for financial wrongdoing concerning bonuses awarded. The bans are for another six years and eight months each, as well as fined a staggering 1m Swiss francs.
Article 12 in FIFA’s code of ethics say that alleged infringements can no longer be prosecuted after 10 years for bribery and corruption offences but with a limitation of five years for other offences. The charges the Ethics body have ruled on would clearly fall under the five year limitation.
The latest sanctions are linked, say FIFA, to both Blatter and Valcke awarding themselves contractual bonuses worth millions of dollars, conduct that cost former finance director Markus Kattner, another of Blatter’s key lieutenants, his own 10-year ban last year.
“The investigations into Messrs Blatter and Valcke covered various charges, in particular concerning bonus payments in relation to FIFA competitions that were paid to top FIFA management officials, various amendments and extensions of employment contracts, as well as reimbursement by FIFA of private legal costs in the case of Mr Valcke,” FIFA’s statement said.
The bonuses presumably refer to payments made in 2010 and 2014 after the South African and Brazilian World Cups. The bonuses were paid in those years. Both Blatter and Valcke were removed from their FIFA posts in 2015.
Kattner’s case in itself is interesting as it is still being ruled in the Swiss labour (business) courts. The key point about this is that it is not being judged as being a criminal case but as a labour dispute.
FIFA sends get well soon message
Blatter, who recently turned 85, still has another seven months of his original FIFA ban to run but has been in poor health and is currently recovering from urgent major surgery that saved his life. Blatter was never likely to make a comeback even though he was keen to clear his name having ruled FIFA for 17 years.
Valcke is also serving an existing ban which runs to October, 2025. Only once the current bans of both men expire will the new punishments kick in, FIFA said.
That effectively rules out any possible football comeback by Valcke, too, unless the Frenchman – once the go-to troubleshooter at FIFA – somehow manages to prove himself innocent.
Blatter was originally banned by FIFA for eight years, later reduced to six, over ethics breaches when he was found to have made a 2m Swiss franc “disloyal payment” to ex-UEFA boss Michel Platini, who was also kicked out.
Blatter and Valcke were ordered to pay their latest 1m Swiss Franc fines within 30 days though it is unclear exactly what power FIFA has to enforce payment.
The timing of the latest punishments is interesting, coming as it does when Infantino is himself at the centre of a criminal prosecution imposed by the Swiss judicial authorities.
The criminal proceedings relate to informal undocumented conversations Infantino and his alleged intermediaries had with former Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber.
Lauber’s replacement, Stefan Keller, has denied Infantino access to the investigation file into his case and while Infantino has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, the latest bans on Blatter and Valcke will serve as a timely distraction from the probe into his own allegedly unlawful conduct.
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