By Andrew Warshaw and Paul Nicholson
August 25 – The US Department of Justice has agreed to hand over $201 million of ‘remission’ money to FIFA, Concacaf and Conmebol from the amount collected from corrupt administrators in the FifaGate scandal.
The money – seized from bank accounts of those prosecuted – is compensation for losses as a result of collusion between a raft of some of the world’s most powerful football officials and sports marketing executives that was first exposed back in 2015 and involved fraud, bribery, racketeering and money laundering.
Rather than allocate the money to the three different organisations, the DoJ has instead chosen to send it to the FIFA Foundation charity that will then distribute the money to the countries hit by the scandal and only for football development projects.
Member associations will have to apply for the grants with suitable football development projects. While that will nominally be done through FIFA’s Foundation it will more likely be done under the advisory of the confederations who work on development with the members on a daily basis. FIFA’s Foundation more generally gives support to schools, recovery after natural disasters, and the somewhat profligate FIFA Legends programme that pays former players as ambassadors.
It is also understood that the ‘remission’ payment was made with specific instruction for allocation to named national federations. The DoJ has made it clear that they regard the money as having been stolen from the development of football in those federations and that the remission payments should only be used development projects in those countries.
They will doubtlessly be watching FIFA closely, and quite rightly with their current track record of grant distribution. The DoJ in a statement issued a slightly veiled but nevertheless chilling warning from Assistant Director-in-Charge Michael J. Driscoll of the FBI’s New York Field Office, who said: “Our work isn’t finished, and our promise to those who love the game – we won’t give up until everyone sees justice for what they’ve done.”
The split of the $201 million will see $71 million allocated to Conmebol and its member associations, $70 million to Concacaf and the balance of $60 million to FIFA. The breakdown of how FIFA Foundation distributes the FIFA allocation – which seems massively disproportionate to the money allocated to federations directly affected by the fraud – has not been addressed by FIFA in any of its media.
Nor have details been given publicly regarding the allocation of the funds to national associations but it is understood that in the first allocation the Caribbean Football Union (whose members are part of Concacaf) will receive about $7 million with its 31 members associations eventually receiving a remission payment of about $175,000 each. Six of the Central American nations (UNCAF) – who had a larger number of their officials indicted – look likely to receive around $2.4 million between them.
The remission money represents a significant step after six years of investigation, prosecution and sentencing in a sprawling case that is still on-going. The DoJ declared that a first amount of $32.2 million will be paid into a ‘World Football Remission Fund’.
“This announcement is the beginning of the process for returning funds to the victims of the FIFA bribery scandal and marks the department’s continued commitment to ensuring justice for those victims harmed by this scheme,” said the DOJ statement.
Most of the cash comes from US legal actions emanating from the scandal that erupted with the dramatic raid on the downtown Zurich hotel used by FIFA’s most powerful administrators and the arrest of seven senior executives that led, over next few years, to a succession of guilty pleas.
The shameful revelations brought FIFA to its knees, heaping ignominy and embarrassment on the organisation and ultimately leading to the departure of Sepp Blatter, who had been president since 1998.
Earlier this week, former El Salvador football federation boss Reynaldo Vasquez became the 27th individual to plead guilty to fraud charges related to the sale of broadcast and marketing rights.
FIFA has always maintained it was not the perpetrator but the victim of the crimes committed by a generation of corrupt officials who sat on its top table.
Gianni Infantino, who replaced Blatter, seized the moral high ground as he hailed the latest deal as if it was some kind of great victory.
“I am delighted to see that money which was illegally siphoned out of football is now coming back to be used for its proper purposes, as it should have been in the first place,” Infantino said.
“It’s great to see significant funding being put at the disposal of the FIFA Foundation, which can positively impact so many people across the football world, especially through youth and community programmes.”
“I want to sincerely thank the US Justice authorities for their efforts in this respect, for their fast and effective approach in bringing these matters to a conclusion, and also for their trust in general. The truth is that, thanks to their intervention back in 2015, we have been able to fundamentally change Fifa from a toxic organisation at the time, to a highly esteemed and trusted global sports governing body.”
They are bold comments from a FIFA president who has been under investigation by judicial authorities in his own country for perverting the course of justice and who was himself flagged by the US DoJ during the Panama Papers tax evasion scandal.
In a separate statement Fifa said: “This money was seized from the bank accounts of former officials who were involved in, and then prosecuted for, years of corruption schemes in football.”
Infantino may not have been in charge when all the behind-the-scenes skullduggery took place but he nevertheless heads the same organisation whose past will be forever tainted by corruption. Some of those who pleaded guilty in a stunning charge sheet are still awaiting trial including one-time aspirant to the FIFA presidency, Jeffrey Webb.
Not only that. It could be argued that most of the funds seized never belonged to Fifa as an organisation in the first place.
A significant amount of the award, £71 million, is reported to be going to Conmebol, many of whose senior officials were among the main culprits of the corruption spree including Paraguayan Juan Angel Napout, a former Combebol president who was sentenced to nine years in prison, and one-time Brazilian football chief Jose Maria Marin who got four years.
“Today’s announcement confirms that money stolen by corrupt soccer officials and sports marketing executives through fraud and greed will be returned to where it belongs and used to benefit the sport,” said Jacquelyn M Kasulis, acting US attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
“From the start, this investigation and prosecution have been focused on bringing wrongdoers to justice and restoring ill-gotten gains to those who work for the benefit of the beautiful game. Our office, together with our law enforcement partners, will always work to compensate victims of crime.”
Driscoll added: “Kickbacks and bribes have a way of spreading like a disease through corrupt groups; pure and simple greed keeps the graft going.
“Not one official in this investigation seemed to care about the damage being done to a sport that millions around the world revere. The only silver lining is the money will now help underprivileged people who need it, not the wealthy executives who just wanted it to get richer.”
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