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Court order Former Fifa boss named in corruption case

Sepp Blatter says corruption must be investigated.

(Keystone)

The former Fifa president, the Brazilian Joao Havelange, has been named as one of two football officials who received "millions" in kickbacks in a corruption case involving the now defunct Swiss-based sports marketing firm ISMM-ISL.

The names were revealed on Wednesday after the Federal Court lifted a gagging order imposed by a court in the canton of Zug in 2010. The Zug court had made the ruling as part of the settlement of a case examining allegations that officials of the world football governing body had taken unethical payments from ISL.

The other person named was Havelange’s former son-in-law, Ricardo Teixeira, who earlier this year resigned as head of Brazil's football federation and the 2014 World Cup organising committee, and gave up his Fifa executive committee seat.

Both names had been the target of widespread speculation about their involvement.

A Swiss court dossier published on Fifa’s website later on Wednesday shows that Teixeira received at least SFr12.74 million ($13 million) between 1992 and 1997, and that Havelange received at least SFr1.5 million.

But the document says the two men may in fact have received payments totalling SFr22 million between 1992 and 2000. It also also says they repaid SFr5.5 million “to end the prosecution office’s investigation on condition their identities remain secret”.

ISL went bankrupt in 2001.

Public interest

Five media outlets had won a ruling last December from a court in Zug which agreed that release of the names was in the public interest. However, the two men then appealed to the Federal Court, the highest in the country, which has now ruled against them.

The Federal Court said it it was in the public interest for the Zug trial papers to be released to the media.

“The names of the persons concerned, and financial and personal circumstances taken into account by the authorities, must equally be divulged to reporters,” the court said in a statement.

A statement on the Fifa website, after the ruling but before the names had reached the public domain, said it was “pleased that the ISL non-prosecution order can now be made public.”

It described the decision as “in line with what Fifa and the Fifa president have been advocating since 2011” as part of the reform process launched at the Fifa congress in June 2011.

“The decision of the Swiss Federal Court also confirms that only two foreign officials will be named as part of the process and that … the Fifa president is not involved in the case,” it noted. 

Fifa and corruption

Zurich-based Fifa has been dogged by corruption allegations for several years, particularly during the tenure of its current president, Sepp Blatter. The Swiss national has never been directly implicated in the corruption rumours – nor charged with any misdeeds – but several media outlets have accused him of at least turning a blind eye.

Fifa vowed to clean up its act last year after the uproar surrounding the award of the World Cup finals to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022. Ongoing allegations of kickbacks have resulted in the suspension or expulsion of some high ranking officials.

Swiss criminologist Mark Pieth delivered a damning report in December into the way the organisation is run. Pieth recommended more transparency, an overhaul of financial governance and the appointment of independent external executives at the body.

Late last year, Blatter – who won a fourth term as president in 2011 – had said that Fifa would release the Zug court papers relating to the ISMM-ISL court case. But the release was then shelved as Fifa said it had received legal objections from unnamed individuals.

Havelange, who is 96, was Fifa president for 24 years and is still its honorary president. Brazil is the host country for the 2014 World Cup.

"Business expense"

On Thursday Blatter defended his role in the kickbacks scandal. Asked if he knew Havelange took kickbacks from ISL, Blatter said "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 acknowledged he was the senior Fifa figure identified in the dossier as “P1”, who "would also have known" that a SFr1 million payment from ISL to Havelange was mistakenly transferred into a Fifa account.

Blatter, who became president in 1998, said he was powerless to remove his mentor. The decision rested with Fifa's 209 member nations.

"I don't have the power to call [Havelange] to account," Blatter said. "The Congress named him as Honorary President. Only the Congress can decide his future."

Corruption allegations

Football’s world governing body has been dogged by allegations of corruption for many years.

  

Fifa set up an ethics committee in 2006 to look into media allegations of corruption surrounding the sport.

  

In 2008 a judicial case in Zug implicated unnamed Fifa officials in a multi-million dollar kickback scandal involving bankrupt sport marketing firm ISMM-ISL. The identities of the officials was withheld following a financial settlement of the case.

  

Last year, the heads of the Nigerian and Oceanic football confederations were suspended along with other Fifa officials following claims of bribery during the vote to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar.

Sepp Blatter was re-elected for a fourth term as Fifa president in June 2011. His rival Mohamed bin Hammam was later banned for life after being found guilty of bribery. Jack Warner, a Fifa vice-president who also faced allegations of corruption, resigned. 

In October 2011, Fifa announced the formation of four task forces to look at the revision of statutes, ethics, transparency and compliance and the running of the next World Cup in 2014.

  

In December, Mark Pieth, chairman of Fifa’s Independant Governance Committee, recommended measures to clean up Fifa.

Although Pieth’s report only covered the future management of Fifa, Blatter promised in March of this year to empower the organisation’s ethics committee to look into all “credible” allegations of past corruption. 

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