Photographer: Alessandro Della Bella/Bloomberg

FIFA Seeks Tens of Millions in Damages For Bribery Scandals

  • U.S. prosecutors expect $190 million from defendants
  • FIFA claims salaries, attorneys' fees, reputational damages

FIFA says it’s a victim of the bribery scandals that removed most of its leadership. Now soccer’s global governing body wants tens of millions in restitution, even as it admitted for the first time that executives took illicit payments from countries hoping to host the World Cup.

Under the leadership of newly elected president Gianni Infantino, FIFA is seeking part of the $190 million American prosecutors say they will collect from the dozens of soccer and media executives who have been charged with corruption. The organization says it is entitled to be compensated for the damage done to its reputation and brand; it also wants to recover salaries, attorneys’ fees and money used for bribes, according to court documents released Wednesday.

This is part of FIFA’s ongoing rehabilitation campaign, which began with Infantino’s election last month. At the same meeting, the 209 member nations agreed to a sweeping set of governance changes designed to support a stated commitment to fairness and transparency. Now, with its claim for restitution, FIFA is trying to underscore the damage done to the organization.

“FIFA gets to play the victim,” said Daniel Richman, a former federal prosecutor who is a law professor at Columbia University. “The question is what FIFA’s reputation and good name was worth before this scheme took place.”

Bribed Executives

In its claim, FIFA confirmed that some of its most senior executives accepted bribes in the voting for the World Cup, the quadrennial tournament that’s the most-watched sporting event on the planet. The 2010 World Cup host South Africa sent $10 million from a FIFA account to one controlled by Jack Warner, when he was the head of the body overseeing the Caribbean and North and Central America, according to the governing body. FIFA also says Morocco, a losing candidate to stage the 1998 event, paid bribes.

U.S. prosecutors set up FIFA’s claim in an indictment unsealed last May, when it painted the organization as a victim of bad actors and not an enabler of them, as critics had charged for years. By lodging its claim, FIFA is pitting itself against the two regional bodies most damaged by the scandal: Concacaf, the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football run by Warner, and the South American soccer organization, Conmebol. Both were also named victims in the U.S. indictment and will seek damages.

Not Ripe

“Concacaf views itself as a victim of a number of the offenses described in the
indictments and intends to seek restitution,” Samir Gandhi, an attorney for Concacaf, said in an interview. “The appropriate time will be closer to sentencing but typically those applications will not be ripe for a bit.”

Conmebol President Alejandro Dominguez said the organization’s American
lawyers also requested compensation. In a Feb. 26 letter to U.S. prosecutors in Brooklyn, New York, those attorneys requested “an opportunity to reasonably confer with the government regarding restitution.”

FIFA wants $28.2 million in recovered salaries; $10 million it said was stolen in a presidential bribery scheme; millions of dollars in attorney fees; and an unspecified sum for harm to its reputation.

“These dollars were meant to build football fields, not mansions and pools; to buy football kits, not jewelry and cars; and to fund youth player and coach development, not to underwrite lavish lifestyles for football and sports marketing executives," said Infantino, who took over following Joseph “Sepp” Blatter’s troubled 17-year reign over world soccer.

Blazer Salary

FIFA’s claims go back more than a decade. It wants the U.S. to turn over $5.3 million to cover the salary paid to Chuck Blazer, an American soccer official who pleaded guilty and cooperated with prosecutors, and $4.4 million that Warner received. Warner has denied wrongdoing but hasn’t responded in court to the charges. 

The restitution it seeks includes about $7 million paid to some of the most powerful figures in South American soccer, including Ricardo Teixeira, the former head of Brazilian soccer and Nicolas Leoz, who was the head of Conmebol. Both officials quit soccer in 2013 after FIFA produced a report saying they’d accepted bribes. Neither has appeared in U.S. court.

Jose Hawilla, the founder of Traffic Group, a Brazilian media company, pleaded guilty and agreed to pay $151 million in restitution. Jeffrey Webb, another former president of Concacaf, also pleaded guilty and agreed to pay $6.7 million. In its filing, FIFA demanded an audit of Webb’s assets, citing a news account of Webb’s wife’s lavish casino-themed 40th birthday party near Atlanta, Georgia.

“Having violated his duties to FIFA and others, it is time for Webb to honestly account for all of the assets available to compensate his victims,” FIFA’s lawyers wrote.

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