Raid on FIFA amid new revelations on Blatter payments

Zurich (AFP) – Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter and two of his deputies awarded themselves more than $80 million in often suspicious payments over the past five years, FIFA said Friday, after Swiss investigators raided the headquarters of football’s governing body.

On a day that FIFA also had to deny media reports that new president Gianni Infantino was under investigation, it said Blatter, former secretary general Jerome Valcke and finance director Markus Kattner made a coordinated effort to “enrich themselves” and that Swiss and US authorities were being informed.

The latest damaging revelations, which suggest the trio wanted to ensure a comfortable future in the event of them losing their jobs, raise new questions about the scope of corruption at FIFA and in world football.

Blatter, whose lawyer said the payments were “proper and fair”, is serving a six-year suspension from football over a two million Swiss franc ($2 million, 1.8 million euros) payment to former FIFA vice president Michel Platini. 

Valcke and Kattner have both been fired in recent months over World Cup ticket scandals and payments they received, part of a simmering graft crisis at FIFA.

Switzerland’s Office of the Attorney General (OAG) said its investigators searched FIFA’s headquarters on Thursday as part of its inquiry into FIFA’s mismanagement and the awarding of World Cup tournaments.

“Documents and electronic data were seized and will now be examined to determine their relevance to the ongoing proceedings,” said the OAG.

FIFA said the search concentrated on Kattner’s office.

– ‘Coordinated effort’ –

A FIFA statement said that some of the contracts agreed by Blatter, Valcke and Kattner “appear to violate Swiss law”.

“The evidence appears to reveal a coordinated effort by three former top officials of FIFA to enrich themselves through annual salary increases, World Cup bonuses and other incentives totalling more than 79 million Swiss francs in just the last five years,” said Bill Burck, a partner with the Quinn Emanuel audit firm brought in to look at FIFA’s books.

“The investigation has produced evidence of breaches of fiduciary duty. It also raises questions about the role of FIFA’s compensation subcommittee.”

For example, on April 30, 2011, just before a FIFA presidential election when it was not certain Blatter would get a new four-year term, Valcke and Kattner were given eight-and-a-half-year contract extensions “with big increases in their base salaries and bonuses”.

Burck said all the information has been passed on to Swiss prosecutors and will also be sent to US judicial authorities.

Blatter’s lawyer, Richard Cullen, said in a statement: “We look forward to showing FIFA that Mr. Blatter’s compensation payments were proper, fair and in line with the heads of major professional sports leagues around the world.”

FIFA has been battling to redeem its name ever since a raid on a Zurich hotel last year to arrest seven FIFA officials at the centre of a US investigation.

About 40 individuals and two companies now face charges in the United States over more than $200 million in bribes paid for television and marketing contracts.

Separately, Swiss police have been investigating FIFA’s management and the award of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and 2022 event to Qatar. .

– Newspaper claims –

Infantino became president in February and vowed to lead world football into a new era of “transparency” and “honesty”.

But he already faces scrutiny. FIFA on Friday denied German media reports that a formal investigation had been launched into the new president.

Die Welt newspaper said Infantino had improperly ordered the destruction of the minutes of a FIFA executive committee meeting held at last month’s congress in Mexico City.  

FIFA spokeswoman Delia Fischer said the allegations were baseless. 

“The email exchange that makes mention of the deletion of audio files refers to a copy of the original audio file of the meeting that was improperly stored on a local drive,” she said.  

“This mention does not refer to the officially archived audio file. That file exists and is properly saved at FIFA.”

A spokesman for the ethics committee’s investigatory arm, Roman Geiser, told AFP that “there are no formal proceedings going on against Mr. Infantino”.

FIFA officials have not discounted however that there is a possibility of an official inquiry.

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