The naming of two former FIFA officials who accepted millions of dollars in kickbacks may expedite reform, according to the Swiss law professor overseeing the soccer body’s cleanup.
FIFA’s executive committee will decide July 17 whether to accept names put forward by Mark Pieth’s Independent Governance Committee to head up newly created ethics bodies at the Zurich-based organization.
Court records made public two days ago showed that ex-FIFA President Joao Havelange and former executive committee member Ricardo Teixeira amassed as much as $22 million between them in payments from the collapsed ISL marketing company. The duo had tried to block the publication of the documents. FIFA had also paid a Swiss court $2.5 million in compensation on condition a criminal investigation against the pair be dropped.
“It is quite fortunate that this thing is coming out because it raises the tempo and should indicate to FIFA why we are doing this reform,” Pieth, who investigated corruption in Iraq’s oil-for-food program in 2004, said in a telephone interview. “It should impress on them why they need an independent judiciary.”
Choosing an independent investigator and a judge, who will look at allegations of wrongdoing by members, is part of a series of reforms FIFA has been forced to undergo. It’s come under pressure from sponsors, lawmakers and media to change the way it does business.
The crisis reached its height following the selection of hosts for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in December 2010, and President Sepp Blatter’s re-election to a fourth four-year term unopposed six months later. His only rival, Mohamed bin Hammam, pulled out a day before being investigated for alleged vote-buying. He has denied wrongdoing.
Blatter yesterday said he knew about the kickbacks received by Havelange and Teixeira, which were paid as “commissions” by ISL to individuals as it signed television and marketing rights with sports bodies, including FIFA. The 76-year-old, who worked under Havelange as FIFA’s general secretary at the time of the payments, said he didn’t take any action because they weren’t illegal under Swiss law at the time they were paid.
Pieth said he declined to read the report before its public release because he didn’t want to appear as though he was a “defense lawyer for Blatter.”
“There’s a paradox,” Pieth said. “Blatter doesn’t come out well, and on the other hand one has to say he’s the guy who’s directing the reform.”
Pieth’s team has submitted four names for the post of head of the investigative branch, and the same number for the head of the adjudicatory branch. The choices were scheduled to have been made at FIFA’s congress in May, though got postponed because Barry O’Keefe, the preferred candidate of Pieth’s group for one of the posts, fell ill.
Whoever is chosen will have the resources to look at FIFA’s past, including the World Cup bids won by Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022, Pieth said.
“We are not talking about going only against individuals,” he said. “There are much bigger issues hidden including decisions like World Cup hosts.”
Pieth’s group and Transparency International, an anti-corruption pressure group, have both said FIFA’s current systems to investigate wrongdoing are not fit for purpose. He said the new investigative body will have a budget to buy in expert help “when they have a really big case.”
The Independent Governance Committee also includes former U.K. Attorney General Peter Goldsmith, former Watergate investigator Michael J. Hershman and Kim Seung Tack, chief operating officer of Hyundai Motor Co. It will remain in place to oversee the changes before “fading away,” Pieth said.
“If we don’t do this now there’s a real risk it just continues,” he added.