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Fifa Corruption Scandal

Fifa admits votes bought in World Cup hosting rights, asks US for return of cash

World soccer’s governing body says it is victim of corrupt individuals and is seeking to claim ‘tens of millions of dollars’ in bribe money seized by US prosecutors

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 March, 2016, 9:56pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 March, 2016, 10:18am

While acknowledging for the first time that votes were bought in past World Cup hosting contests, Fifa is seeking to claim “tens of millions of dollars” in bribe money seized by US federal prosecutors.

Fifa submitted a 22-page claim to the US Attorney’s office in New York on Tuesday that seeks a big share in restitution from more than US$190 million already forfeited by soccer and marketing officials who pleaded guilty in the sprawling corruption case.

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
Gianni Infantino

Tens of millions of dollars more is likely to be collected by US authorities when sentences are handed down, and from dozens of officials now indicted but who have denied bribery charges or are fighting extradition.

Fifa claims it is the victim of corrupt individuals, despite widespread criticism that bribe-taking was embedded in its culture in the presidencies of Joao Havelange and Sepp Blatter, who was forced from office after 17 years by the current scandal.

“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,” Fifa President Gianni Infantino said on Wednesday.

“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.”

In documents seen by Associated Press, Fifa asks for:

• US$28.2 million for years of payments, including bonuses, flights and daily expenses, to officials it now says are corrupt;

• US$10 million for the “theft” of money that FIFA officials transferred as bribes to then-executive committee members to vote for South Africa as 2010 World Cup host;

• “substantial” cost of legal bills since separate US and Swiss federal probes of corruption in international soccer were revealed last May;

• damages for harm to its reputation, plus other bribes and kickbacks for media rights to non-Fifa competitions but “which were made possible because of the value of the FIFA brand”.

READ MORE: Wanted – Fifa chief executive, must be non-European: Gianni Infantino begins search for secretary general

“Fifa has become notable for the defendants’ bribery and corruption, not its many good works,” lawyers for soccer’s world body state in the claim.

“Fifa is entitled to restitution for this harm to its business relationships, reputation and intangible property.”

Fifa’s grab for a share of the money sets up a battle with two of its regional confederations – CONMEBOL, the South American confederation, and Concacaf, the body running soccer in North America. It was officials and competitions from those regions that were most involved in the corruption crisis.

These dollars were meant to build football fields, not mansions and pools; to buy football kits, not jewellery and cars
Gianni Infantino

It also signals a change in strategy for Fifa, after months of senior officials distancing Zurich from the scandal, instead blaming confederations beyond its control.

Most of the already seized money – US$151.7 million – will come from Brazilian marketing executive Jose Hawilla, whose group of agencies were heavily involved with matches that Concacaf and CONMEBOL controlled, but not Fifa directly.

In an initial claim for US$28.2 million, Fifa specifies an amount for each of 20 men from the Americas over many years that it says it should be repaid from money held by US authorities.

Fifa wants more than US$5.3 million it spent on Chuck Blazer, the disgraced American official who has pleaded guilty, allocates US$4.4 million of its claim for former Fifa vice-president Jack Warner, and US$3.5 million for Ricardo Teixeira, Havelange’s former son-in-law from Brazil.

Warner, a long-time powerbroker from Trinidad and Tobago until resigning in a 2011 election bribery scandal, is identified by Fifa in its 22-page claim for receiving a US$1 million bribe from 1998 World Cup bid candidate Morocco, and ensuring the US$10 million bribe from South Africa was paid via a Fifa account in 2008.

Fifa claims a further US$2 million for payments to Jeffrey Webb, the Cayman Islands banker who was arrested at a luxury Zurich hotel last May, and now lives at his home near Atlanta, Georgia, awaiting sentence in June.

“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,” Infantino said.

It is unclear how much influence Infantino, a former lawyer, had had in the restitution claim since he was elected only three weeks ago, with strong support from voters in the Americas.

Infantino’s signature pitch to voters on election day was about finances, saying bluntly “It’s your money.” That resonated with members of CONMEBOL and Concacaf, who have had a combined US$20 million central funding frozen by Fifa.

Concacaf, based in Miami, has had its past three presidents implicated in the US case. But it has passed wide-ranging reforms to clean up its operations, and has targeted restitution money to rebuild.

“Concacaf views itself as a victim of a number of the offences described in the indictments and intends to seek restitution at the appropriate time,” the regional body said.