FIFA hands authorities 20,000 pieces of evidence as Blatter continues to protest his innocence

David Conn
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">Former Fifa president Sepp Blatter has denied any wrongdoing and has said he is confident he will not be charged with any criminal offences.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Former Fifa president Sepp Blatter has denied any wrongdoing and has said he is confident he will not be charged with any criminal offences. Photograph: Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images

Fifa has announced the completion of its 22-month internal investigation into the multiple allegations of corruption and fraud which plunged it into an existential crisis in June 2015. The US law firm, Quinn Emanuel, was hired to handle the investigation and pass all relevant information to the Swiss law enforcement authorities, after the governing body strove to adopt the legal position that it was a victim rather than a participant in wrongdoing, and pledged absolute cooperation.

In an effort to separate itself from the criminal proceedings and investigations which are still ongoing, Fifa said it has handed over reports consisting of more than 1,300 pages, and 20,000 pieces of evidence, “on the issues of primary concern to the Swiss and US authorities.” No detail has been publicly released, nor has Fifa clarified which areas of the criminal investigations it has primarily assisted.

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The US Department of Justice is continuing with its comprehensive investigation into alleged multi-million dollar bribery and kickbacks on TV rights sales and alleged tax fraud by executives at football federations and confederations in the Americas, which explosively became public on 27 May 2015 with the arrests of seven officials in Zurich days before the re-election of Sepp Blatter as Fifa president.

Several key figures have admitted to serial crimes of corruption and pleaded guilty in the US, including Chuck Blazer, the former longstanding general secretary of the Confederation of North, Central and Caribbean Football Associations (Concacaf), who also agreed to be an informant. Jack Warner, president of Concacaf alongside Blazer for 21 years from 1990 to 2011, has been indicted by the US authorities for multiple alleged corruption offences, with 26 other defendants, and is fighting extradition in his home country of Trinidad.

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The investigation is believed to be continuing into the payment by Fifa to Warner of $10m from the organising budget of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, which was stated to be for projects to benefit the “African diaspora.” Blazer himself has said that the $10m was a bribe for his, Warner’s and another Fifa executive committee member’s vote for South Africa to host the tournament, and pleaded guilty to that as a crime, but Warner has not admitted that, or any wrongdoing.

The Swiss attorney general, Michael Lauber, announced on the same day as the Zurich arrests that he had opened a criminal investigation into allegations passed to him by Fifa itself of possible wrongdoing in the bidding and voting process which led to Russia and Qatar being named as hosts respectively of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

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In September 2015, Lauber announced a criminal investigation into Blatter, for a 2m CHF payment to the former Uefa president Michel Platini in 2011, which led to both men being banned from football by Fifa’s ethics committee in December 2015. Lauber said he was also investigating a 2005 TV contract with the Caribbean Football Union, when Warner was the president, for having potentially been “unfavourable” to Fifa.

Blatter has denied any wrongdoing in both cases and throughout his 17 year tenure as Fifa president, and said he is confident he will not be charged with any criminal offences.

Announcing that it has completed the handover of all relevant evidence to the authorities, Fifa said it was “legally restricted from releasing or commenting on the findings from its internal investigation,” because the US and Swiss criminal investigations are ongoing.

Gianni Infantino, Blatter’s successor as president, has sought since his election in February 2016 to maintain Fifa’s victim status in the legal proceedings, distance his tenure from the previous disgraces and redirect global attention on to football itself. He said: “Fifa committed to conducting a thorough and comprehensive investigation of the facts so we could hold wrongdoers within football accountable and cooperate with the authorities.

“We have now completed that investigation and handed the evidence over to the authorities, who will continue to pursue those who enriched themselves and abused their positions of trust in football. Fifa will now return its focus to the game, for fans and players throughout the world.”

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