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FIFA's internal investigation said to uncover more crimes

Tuesday, February 7, 2017 - 23:46

[LONDON] An internal investigation of world soccer's governing body has uncovered wrongdoing that extends beyond the corruption alleged last year by US prosecutors, according to a person familiar with the information.

The new details could prompt fresh charges should authorities in the US and Switzerland choose to pursue them, according to the person. Some of the findings relate to FIFA commercial contracts and alleged bribes paid by former officials.

The findings, which could be presented to FIFA's top leadership before the end of the month, are likely to add to a global scandal that has already unseated world soccer's top leaders and cast a shadow over the World Cup, the world's most popular sporting event.

The law firm carrying out the investigation, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP, has billed the governing body, known as FIFA, more than US$30 million for the investigation, the person said. FIFA's mounting legal costs have led some members of the organization to question how long the soccer body will be required to retain its lawyers.

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The internal probe started shortly after the US Justice Department announced charges against several senior soccer officials in May 2015 and alleged widespread corrupt behavior dating back more than two decades.

Swiss prosecutors started separate investigations into FIFA after the US filed charges. They accuse FIFA's former president, Joseph "Sepp" Blatter, of criminal mismanagement related to the sale of media rights in the Caribbean and a suspected "disloyal payment" of US$2 million to the ex-head of European soccer. That case remains active, and new details uncovered by FIFA's internal investigation will be shared with Swiss authorities. Blatter denies wrongdoing.

The Justice Department charged about 40 individuals and companies with counts including racketeering, wire fraud and money-laundering conspiracy. The sprawling indictment described bribery and kickback schemes related to media and sponsorship rights worth more than US$200 million.

The charges led to the ouster of most of FIFA's senior management. Blatter, his longtime No 2, Jerome Valcke, and the once-powerful head of European soccer, Michel Platini, were also banned from the sport. In June, FIFA revealed Blatter, Valcke and Markus Kattner, its fired finance head, awarded themselves more than 79 million Swiss francs over the past five years from bonuses, incentives and salary increases, some of which probably broke Swiss law. Platini, Valcke and Kattner have all denied wrongdoing.

"The Swiss and US investigations demonstrated the need for significant reforms at FIFA, and how the business side of football is conducted throughout the world," FIFA said in a statement. "FIFA has been conducting both an internal investigation of alleged misconduct and a full audit and review of FIFA's finance function. FIFA implemented deep reforms and continues to cooperate with authorities and provide them the results of its reviews." Nicole Navas, a Justice Department spokeswoman, declined to comment. Quinn Emanuel didn't respond to requests for comment.

As well as conducting the internal investigation, Quinn Emanuel has been FIFA's conduit with the Justice Department. The US granted victim status to FIFA and two other regional soccer bodies associated with the scandals, allowing the groups to share millions of dollars in restitution.

Still, the legal expenses associated with the scandal have been a source of contention. Aleksander Ceferin, European soccer body UEFA's new president, asked FIFA's new president, Gianni Infantino, to reveal the exact costs at January's quarterly meeting of FIFA's top board, according to two people present. FIFA's executive board consists of officials from soccer's six regional governing bodies.

UEFA spokesman Pedro Pinto didn't respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

FIFA said last March that legal costs in 2015 related to the scandal had contributed to the organization's first financial loss since 2002. Expenditure on "legal matters" almost doubled to US$62 million from a year before.

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