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June 02, 2020

Rolf Bartolo - A man of integrity

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Tuesday, 02 June 2020 01:42

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Somewhere in California, FIFA President Gianni Infantino breathed a heavy sigh of relief as the explosive news that former head of the corruption-plagued organisation Sepp Blatter and two other top officials siphoned $80 million (£55 million/€71 million) in bonuses and pay rises hit the headlines.

No wonder Infantino blasted a salary offer of a paltry $2 million (£1.4 million/€1.8 million) per year as “insulting” at the now infamous Council meeting in Mexico City last month. His predecessors were taking much more from FIFA’s coffers than that.

In a strange and twisted way, he may have been thankful for the timing of the announcement, deliberately coordinated by FIFA to take the spotlight away from the Swiss authorities’ raid on their plush headquarters in Zurich. With the world’s eye focused solely on him in the wake of allegations in German newspaper Die Welt, which claimed he ordered the deletion of a recording of the hastily-convened Council gathering in the Mexican capital, he would perhaps have welcomed the respite.

Attention had turned from a potential 90-day ban for Infantino, whose tenure at the helm has been far from convincing, to the callous acts of three leading officials almost in an instant.

The figures are astounding; the sheer volumes of cash directed the way of Blatter, disgraced former secretary general Jérôme Valcke and the man who replaced him in an acting capacity, Markus Kattner, are akin to the sums of money you see in films depicting the Italian Mafia. Just think how better $80 million could have been spent.

A statement in the report, released by FIFA’s lawyers Quinn Emanuel, said it all. “The new documents and evidence appear to reveal a coordinated effort by three former top officials of FIFA to enrich themselves through annual salary increases, World Cup bonuses, as well as undue severance payments,” it read.

For the good of the game? More like for the benefit of the crooks.

While Blatter, who is currently serving a six-year ban handed to him by the Ethics Committee for a series of ethics breaches, constantly portrayed a message that he was helping “football development” across the world during his time in the FIFA hotseat, behind the scenes he and his cronies were awarding themselves lucrative bonuses and poorly-timed contract extensions.

Many of the contracts themselves, according to Quinn Emanuel, appear to breach Swiss law. The report thus gives evidence of both the illegal, the unethical and the immoral.

Of course, the charges of embedded corruption within FIFA are nothing new, but to see them laid bare in black and white, with the evidence as clear as day, is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the latest episode in the ongoing scandal.

The extensive - and expensive - rap sheet details how Blatter, Valcke and Kattner, three men entrusted with ensuring world football’s colossal pot of cash was used in the right way, gave themselves a combined CHF23 million (£16.1 million/$23.5 million/€21 million) in December 2010 following the World Cup in South Africa that year.

Valcke and Kattner then deemed themselves worthy of a substantial bonus of a combined CHF14.4 million (£10.1 million/$14.7 million/€13 million) following the 2014 tournament in Brazil. Quite what they thought could possibly warrant it will forever remain a mystery.

Perhaps the most infuriating revelation from the report was that Kattner was handed an additional four-year contract extension on May 30 last year, just three days after six FIFA officials were arrested in dawn raids at the Baur Au Lac hotel in Zurich. This guaranteed him more than eight years of future salary and bonus payments totalling up to CHF9 million (£6.3 million/$9.2 million/€8.1 million) in the event of his dismissal.

While his fellow FIFA members were being hauled away in handcuffs to face criminal corruption charges, the German found it to be an opportune time to expand his already considerable remuneration. If ever you needed a glimpse into the man, there you have it.

There had always been something suspicious about crafty Kattner, who lost his job for “financial breaches relating to his contract - I wouldn’t what they might be? - on May 23. It is common knowledge the German was aware of the now infamous “disloyal” payment between Blatter and former UEFA chief Michel Platini but chose to do nothing about it to protect his rapacious self-interests.

That is a recurring theme among all this and perhaps explains why it took so long for the public to be made aware that such a staggering sum of money found its way into the corrupt pockets of the top brass over a sustained period of time.

Clearly, somebody must have been aware this was going on. Clearly, they opted to turn a blind eye for fear of being alienated among the powerbrokers within the scandal-hit organisation.

Where were the auditors? Why did it take the investigators, being paid a considerable sum for their probe into the financial wrongdoing within world football’s governing body, a full year to disclose such damning details?

How did someone, anyone, not notice the three top officials were pocketing such vast, undeserved sums?

“The documents and evidence also raise serious questions about the way a series of problematic contract amendments in favour of Mr. Blatter, Mr. Kattner and former secretary general Jérôme Valcke were approved,” the report says.

“These amendments resulted in massive payouts - amounting to tens of millions of dollars - to the former FIFA officials in the form of salaries and bonuses between the years 2011 and 2015.”

FIFA themselves are no angels here. Yes, they should be credited for releasing the information but the time at which they chose to do so was manipulated to take current President Infantino out of the limelight and replace him with a predecessor who no longer has any affiliation to the governing body.

A clever switching of the agenda, a colleague of mine pointed out yesterday. As FIFA faced a myriad of negativity, with stories concerning the seizure of documents and files from Swiss authorities as part of their ongoing criminal probe as well as the pressure on Infantino following his actions at the Mexico City Congress continuing to spiral, they essentially threw former executives under the bus.

Because for the majority of yesterday, nobody was talking about the raid on their Zurich HQ. Nobody was talking about how Infantino has always pledged reform but is turning out to be more Blatter than a bastion of change.

The allegations in Die Welt paint a poor picture of a man tasked with repairing and restoring the reputation of the body he now oversees. Having already come under fire for apparently orchestrating a “plot” to remove Audit and Compliance Committee chair Domenico Scala at the Congress - which was in fact successful seeing as the Swiss-Italian resigned the following day - claims that he then made sure the recorded minutes were deleted show him trying to cover his tracks. Not exactly the trait of innocence.

Infantino hasn’t helped himself; let’s not forget that the man who helped draw up a motion which granted the Council the power to sack the heads of their Independent Committees without taking it to a formal Congress vote, former FIFA director of legal affairs Marco Villiger, is now a deputy secretary general.

FIFA have been forced to deny the reports of a “plot” and that Infantino merely asked for a copy of the recording, not the original, be deleted.

Yet often rebuttal is not enough. They needed a scapegoat - or should I say scapegoats - to take the fall and deviate the world’s attention away from Infantino.

And they succeeded. But for how long the FIFA President is able to breathe a sigh of relief remains to be seen.