GENEVA – 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 U.S. federal prosecutors.
FIFA submitted a 22-page claim to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York on Tuesday that seeks a big share in restitution from more than $190 million already forfeited by soccer and marketing officials who pleaded guilty in the sprawling corruption case.
Tens of millions of dollars more is likely to be collected by U.S. authorities when sentences are handed down, and from dozens of officials currently 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 organizations and caused serious and lasting damage to FIFA,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said Wednesday in a statement. “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 The Associated Press, FIFA asks for: $28.2 million for years of payments, including bonuses, flights and daily expenses, to officials it now says are corrupt; $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 U.S. 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”
“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.
It also signals a change in strategy for FIFA, after months of senior officials distancing Zurich from the scandal, instead blaming confederations which are beyond its control.
Most of the already seized money — $151.7 million — will come from Brazilian marketing executive Jose Hawilla, whose group of agencies were heavily involved with matches CONCACAF and CONMEBOL controlled but not FIFA directly.
In an initial claim for $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 U.S. authorities.
FIFA wants more than $5.3 million it spent on Chuck Blazer, the disgraced American official who has pleaded guilty, allocates $4.4 million of its claim for former FIFA vice president Jack Warner, and $3.5 million for Ricardo Teixeira, Havelange’s former son-in-law form 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 $1 million bribe from 1998 World Cup bid candidate Morocco, and ensuring the $10 million bribe from South Africa was paid via a FIFA account in 2008.
FIFA claims a further $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 jewelry 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 $20 million central funding frozen by FIFA.
CONCACAF, based in Miami, has had its past three presidents implicated in the U.S. 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 offenses described in the indictments and intends to seek restitution at the appropriate time,” the regional body said in a statement.