World football’s Zurich-based governing body, FIFA, is claiming tens of millions of dollars in damages from former executives for abuse of power, breach of contract and filling their pockets with bribe money relating to World Cup bids, presidential elections and the award of media rights.
In papers filed with the Eastern District Court of New York on Wednesday, FIFA claimed at least $38 million (CHF37.4 million) in damages from 40 individuals and entities. These include several former football administrative heavyweights, such as Jack Warner, Chuck Blazer and Jeffrey Webb. The total bill could well be much higher as lawyers are still adding up the full cost of the alleged corruption.
FIFA’s claims make no reference to its former president Sepp Blatter or to UEFA boss Michel Platini who have both been handed six-year bans from football activities relating to a suspect CHF2 million payment made between the two.
FIFA, which now has a new president and set of operational practices, has set itself out as the victim of a massive fraud and embezzlement campaign, stretching back over many years.
“The damage done by the defendants’ greed cannot be overstated. Their actions have deeply tarnished the FIFA brand and impaired FIFA’s ability to use its resources for positive actions throughout the world,” the court papers read.
“They did violence to FIFA’s principles, goals and objectives as they promoted their own self-interests and sought to enrich themselves at FIFA’s and football’s expense.”
The appeal for restitution details a list of allegations which include rigging votes for the award of World Cup competitions. The complaint alleges that bribes were changing hands from as early as 1992 and amounted to $10 million to buy votes for the 2010 World Cup, which was held in South Africa.
There is no mention of any impropriety relating to the award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar.
FIFA also alleges that some former executives took some $1.5 million in bribes from disgraced executive Mohamed Bin Hammam relating to the 2011 presidential elections.
Kickbacks were also handed out to secure television rights and sponsorship deals for World Cup events, the court papers add. In addition to damages for lost revenues and reputational damage, FIFA wants the court to claw back salaries paid out to the accused former executives and legal costs.
The claim states that FIFA could not be held responsible for the actions of its members associations.
“It is also a critical feature of FIFA’s status as an association under Swiss law that each member association remains a separate organisation that retains its integrity and autonomy over its own business affairs and governance. On the basis of applicable Swiss association law, FIFA’s direct power over each of the member associations is limited,” the court papers read.
FIFA has been mired in scandal and allegations of corruption for several years. But the numerous suspicions of foul play became more solid last year when the United States and Switzerland launched criminal probes into several FIFA executives, football associations and companies.
Several of the accused were arrested in Switzerland and have been deported to the US where they face trial.
The criminal actions led to the demise of Sepp Blatter as FIFA president, who had to resign his fifth mandate within weeks of being elected last summer. He was replaced by fellow Swiss Gianni Infantino last month.
“The convicted defendants abused the positions of trust they held at FIFA and other international football organisations and caused serious and lasting damage to FIFA, its member associations and the football community,” Infantino said in a statement on Wednesday.
“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 addition to expelling several executives for corruption, FIFA voted on a reform package to its organisational structure last month. The organisation now admits that it faces a hard path of restoring its credibility in the eyes of many fans, sponsors and the media.