Fifa looks to reclaim milions from indicted former executives

Association lodges claim in US against those they claim ‘deeply tarnished the Fifa brand’

Fifa has lodged a claim in the US for tens of millions of dollars in damages and compensation from the indicted former executives who have plunged the governing body into crisis and, it claims, “deeply tarnished the Fifa brand”.

Identifying $190m in assets that have been forfeited by the 41 Fifa officials and marketing executives indicted over the past 12 months in the US and $100m in seizures relating to the defendants’ “felonious schemes”, sources close to the legal process said they were seeking restitution that would run into tens of millions of dollars.

As part of the claim Fifa effectively confirms for the first time that it believes its senior executive committee members were guilty of bribery on a grand scale.

“It is now apparent that multiple members of the Fifa’s executive committee abused their position and sold their [WORLD CUP]votes on multiple occasions,” it said.

In particular, it directly refers to a $10m payment from the South African FA routed via Fifa to a bank account controlled by the disgraced former Fifa vice-president and Concacaf president Jack Warner as a bribe to help secure the 2010 World Cup. Warner continues to protest his innocence and is still in his native Trinidad and Tobago, battling extradition to the US.

The document also claims that bribes were paid by Morocco in the battle for the 1998 World Cup, which ultimately went to France, and the race for the 2010 tournament.

Sources close to the process said that the legal claim was based not only on the two US indictments but on Fifa’s internal investigation, which has been ongoing since the US Department of Justice swooped on Zurich in May and alleged a “World Cup of fraud”.

In what will be viewed by many as an act of brazen chutzpah given the extent to which the culture and practices engendered by the former president Sepp Blatter and those who sat around the executive committee table were responsible for its demise, Fifa's lawyers are making the claim under the Mandatory Restitution Act in the US.

Fifa insiders have continually underlined the fact that Fifa has been afforded “victim” status in the US and Switzerland, with much of its strategy since Blatter’s decision to stand down informed by the need to protect that status.

Commentators believe the legal claim is part of an ongoing attempt by Fifa and its US lawyers, Quinn Emmanuel, and public affairs advisers, Teneo, to frame world football’s governing body as the victim in the ongoing corruption crisis that has brought it to its knees.

The submission to the court in the Eastern District of New York is full of references to the “damage done by the defendants’ greed” that have “deeply tarnished the Fifa brand” and undermined its ability to “united and inspire football players and fans throughout the world”.

The South American confederation, Conmebol, and North and Central American confederation, Concacaf, which has seen its past three presidents indicted, have launched similar lawsuits to try to recover funds paid and received as bribes on TV and marketing deals.

According to the claim, indicted Fifa executives racked up more than $28m in pay, per diems, travel and other costs since 2004.

The former Concacaf general secretary Chuck Blazer, who has pleaded guilty and wore a wire to try to gather evidence on his colleagues, is listed as owing $5.4m, the former Conmebol president Nicolás Leoz as owing at least $3.25m and Rafael Salguero, another former Fifa executive member, from Guatemala, $5.1m.

In the covering letter to the claim from Quinn Emmanuel lawyers, it also requests that the US probation office carry out an “immediate accounting of funds and assets of the defendant Jeffrey Webb”.

The former Concacaf president, once seen as a successor to Blatter, pleaded guilty and is on bail. Complaining that Webb continues to live in the home he “may have purchased with bribes and kickbacks”, it also points to recent media reports of a lavish casino-themed birthday party for his wife.

“Fifa is concerned that Mr Webb may not have fully disclosed his assets to the Court or the Government,” it said. “At a minimum, his resources are not being protected for the benefit of his victims.”

As well as a perhaps futile attempt to limit the damage to Fifa's reputation and position the new president, Gianni Infantino, as a reforming force, the law suit will also be seen as attempting to help repair the hole in Fifa's finances caused by the crisis.

Infantino said in relation to the allegations made in Fifa’s legal claim: “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.

“The defendants diverted this money not just from Fifa but from players, coaches and fans worldwide who benefit from the programmes that Fifa runs to develop and promote football.

“These dollars were meant to build football fields, not mansions and pools; to buy football kits, not jewellery and cars; and to fund youth player and coach development, not to underwrite lavish lifestyles for football and sports marketing executives. When Fifa recovers this money, it will be directed back to its original purpose: for the benefit and development of international football.”

As Fifa’s executive committee gathers for the final time in Zurich before being replaced by an expanded Fifa Council as part of its reform plan, it will release financial results expected to show a loss of at least $100m amid plummeting staff morale and disenchanted sponsors. The results will also confirm for the first time what Blatter and Jérôme Valcke were paid, which is also likely to be positioned as part of Fifa’s new-found quest for transparency.

At last month’s Fifa Congress, it admitted the crisis had contributed to a $550m black hole in its finances.

In the claim, Fifa asserts that it is “entitled to restitution for its attorney fees and business and legal costs that flowed directly from the indictments and ongoing investigations”.

(Guardian service)