After slugging it out for more than 18 months, and serial obfuscation from FIFA trying to prevent its release, the Swiss Federal Court ruled on Wednesday that a Court document that detailed bribery and corruption within FIFA should be released. SBI has previously written about this matter in the context of FIFA’s alleged reform program being overseen by Professor Mark Pieth.
The Court report’s release was repeatedly blocked by FIFA, former FIFA President and IOC Member, Joao Havelange, and his former son-in-law and FIFA Executive Committee member, Ricardo Teixeira. According to the BBC, FIFA only dropped its direct opposition to the release of the report recently when the case reached the Federal Court.
For more than seven years investigative journalists Andrew Jennings, Jens Weinreich and Jean-Francois Tanda have been pursuing the payment of bribes of up to $100 million by ISL to leading sports officials including those at FIFA.
The Court document confirms that Havelange and Teixeira allegedly received roughly AUD $40 million from 1992 until 2000. A further $37 million was paid in ‘commissions’ to other unnamed powerbrokers in global sports.
In a series of negotiations that took place in 2009 and 2010 – while nine hopeful countries were bidding for the hosting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments – the Swiss Court, Havelange, Teixeira and FIFA agreed on a reparation payment of $500,000 from Havelange, $2.5 million from Teixeira and $100,000 in legal costs from FIFA. Under Swiss law, commercial bribery was not illegal at the time of the offence, and individuals or entities can be exempted from prosecution under other provisions of the law by making reparation.
FIFA also stands accused by the Court of being “a deficient organisation” because they failed to prevent the payments from happening, even though they had “knowledge that the commission payments were made”, and because they also failed to act in recovering the funds.
The document also shows that FIFA disagreed with the Court on any obligation it has on behalf of football’s stakeholders to recover the money from Havelange and Teixeira. The Court’s view is that the ‘commissions’ should have been part of the entire payment made by ISL to FIFA for the rights and, therefore, the money was FIFA’s money. Under FIFA’s Constitution, the money received by Havelange and Teixeira ought to have been for the benefit of football, not for them. FIFA argued that this was not the case and it should not reclaim the money.
The Court is also unequivocal in stating that FIFA had knowledge of the payments and it exposes a longstanding culture of the acceptance of ‘commissions’ for favours rendered. FIFA’s Chief Financial Officer confirmed this in evidence to the Court in relation to a $1 million payment from ISL that turned up in FIFA’s bank account instead of Havelange’s – a situation that was dramatically and accurately described in the opening chapter of Jennings’ book ‘FOUL!’.
Amongst those who knew about this wayward payment was someone referred to in the Court documents as “P1”. Blatter has confirmed he is P1. He knew about this wayward payment, co-signed with Havelange the original contract with ISL in 1997, and was present at the briefing given by the Prosecutor’s Office in September 2009 in which the evidence against FIFA and its Executive Committee members was presented.
Blatter was typically unapologetic and defiant over his position on the ISL payouts, saying Thursday “commission” payments were legal in Switzerland in the 1990s.
“I can’t have known about an offence that wasn’t even one,” Blatter said in a question-and-answer sequence conducted by FIFA and published on its website. “Back then, such payments could even be deducted from tax as a business expense. Today, that would be punishable under law. You can’t judge the past on the basis of today’s standards.”
Blatter has been at the top of FIFA – either as CEO or President – for 32 years. It is inconceivable for someone to be in a position of power for this amount of time and not know what is going on around them. All of this happened on his watch.
Yet, although Havelange was discreetly asked to step down from his IOC position last year, he is still the Honorary President of FIFA. Teixeira resigned from all football positions only earlier this year when the writing was well and truly on the wall for even Blatter and his close advisers to see. But, until then, Teixeira voted on who would host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, he was the omnipotent President of the powerful Brazilian Football Federation and the FIFA sanctioned Chairman of the 2014 World Cup Organising Committee.
In the past 18 months, four other Executive Committee members have resigned either voluntarily or involuntarily: Amos Adamu, Reynald Temarii, Jack Warner and Mohamed Bin Hammam (still subject to appeal). Another member, Issa Hayatou was sanctioned by the IOC Ethics Committee in December last year for accepting payment from ISL.
Blatter’s supporters – which include most of FIFA’s 208 member associations – cite these departures as evidence of his commitment to reform; but other than Bin Hammam, who was a rival for the FIFA Presidency, not one of the departures was at the instigation of Blatter. Unlike the IOC Ethics Commission which investigated its members, Havelange and Hayatou, afterJennings’ revelations on BBC in November 2010, the FIFA Ethics Committee has failed to investigate Havelange, Hayatou or Teixeira. The possibility exists after publication of the Court report that the IOC may yet investigate another of its members – Sepp Blatter – even though FIFA is unlikely to act.
Football Federation Australia, a strong supporter of Blatter and his close associates, told SBI that they will “continue to play a positive role in supporting any reforms that improve the governance and reputation of FIFA.” FFA also assures SBI that “FFA representatives will continue to advocate for review and reform within FIFA and AFC forums, where Australia has a strong and respected voice.”
Yet those who are Blatter’s detractors, and who know him, say that FIFA reforms are a charade. Blatter is only window-dressing to safeguard his legacy until he supposedly departs in 2015 after 35 years at the top.
The Court document notes that FIFA and its members have a “general duty of loyalty” to the objectives of the organisation which include improving and promoting the game globally and to safeguard the integrity of the sport.
Earlier this year, the Council of Europe called on FIFA to deal with the scandals that have tarnished its image for too long. Now, the Swiss Federal Court has confirmed the work of Jennings, Weinreich and Tanda and documented the decades of bribery and corruption all known to those at the highest levels of FIFA.
In football terms, that’s at least two yellows. The rest of us – football’s stakeholders whom FIFA and FIFA’s member associations like FFA are here to serve – should demand that Blatter be shown a red.