FIFA, soccer bodies entitled to $200M as corruption victims

GENEVA (AP) — The U.S. Department of Justice declared FIFA and other soccer bodies to be victims of corrupt former officials and said Tuesday they should get more than $200 million from cash forfeited in a sprawling investigation.

A first amount of $32.2 million will be paid into a “World Football Remission Fund” overseen by the FIFA Foundation charity, federal prosecutors said.

“This announcement is the beginning of the process for returning funds to the victims of the FIFA bribery scandal and marks the department’s continued commitment to ensuring justice for those victims harmed by this scheme,” the DOJ said in a statement.

FIFA’s charity supports projects in schools, helps the sport recover after natural disasters, develops women’s and girls’ soccer, and the FIFA Legends program that uses former players as ambassadors.

“I would like to thank the US authorities for the trust placed in FIFA,” its president Gianni Infantino said in a statement, pledging “we will make sure that these funds are used properly and bring tangible benefits for people who really need it.”

The forfeited money — in a case unsealed in 2015 that led to more than 50 people or corporate entities charged — will now be under FIFA’s control in Zurich though it mostly never belonged to the world soccer body.

The money was typically linked to bribes and kickbacks from broadcasting and sponsor deals for continental competitions in the Americas and national deals for World Cup qualifying games.

More than $150 million was to be forfeited by Jose Hawilla, the Brazilian marketing executive who has since died. His group of agencies had close relationships with South American soccer body CONMEBOL and North America’s CONCACAF.

In separate statements, Paraguay-based CONMEBOL said it was entitled to $71 million of the forfeited money and Miami-based CONCACAF said its share was $70 million. Each soccer body lost a succession of presidents who resigned in the scandal.

That would leave $60 million for FIFA though it will control distribution of all the money, which Infantino said would be subject to “strict monitoring, auditing and compliance checks.”

It is unclear how much total cash has been recovered though the DOJ said “well over” the initial $32.2 million granted “has been seized and has been or is expected to be forfeited to the United States in the Eastern District of New York.”

The remission deal follows more than five years after FIFA claimed tens of millions of dollars in restitution for itself from money held by prosecutors who secured dozens of guilty pleas from soccer and marketing executives, mostly in the Americas.

Some are still awaiting sentencing in federal court in Brooklyn years after admitting charges of financial wrongdoing including racketeering conspiracy. Indicted soccer officials have avoided extradition while remaining in Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago.

The highest-profile trial saw former CONMEBOL president Juan Angel Napout and Jose Maria Marin, a Brazilian who led the 2014 World Cup organizing committee, convicted in Brooklyn in 2017.

The ongoing investigation was unsealed in May 2015 and rocked world soccer while its leaders met in Zurich and two days later re-elected Sepp Blatter as FIFA president.

The next week, Blatter announced his plans to resign in the fallout from a case that ultimately removed a generation of leaders from the Americas who also held senior positions at FIFA.

Blatter was never implicated directly by U.S. prosecutors though since September 2015 has been the subject of criminal proceedings in Switzerland, where federal prosecutors are still running separate though connected investigations.

However, at least $10 million of the restitution FIFA requested was its own money paid out during Blatter’s presidency.

In its 2016 claim, FIFA described the “theft” of payments totaling $10 million it transferred to CONCACAF leaders that was acknowledged as bribes to vote for South Africa as the 2010 World Cup host.

The restitution claim was revealed three weeks after the February 2016 election of Infantino to succeed Blatter.

Infantino oversaw creating the FIFA Foundation and appointing former Argentina president Mauricio Macri as its executive chairman.

Macri was Argentina’s head of state from 2015-19 and previously president of storied soccer club Boca Juniors.

The charity’s chief executive, Youri Djorkaeff, played in the France team that won the 1998 World Cup.

The new remission fund “is intended to have a particular focus on youth and community program, will have earmarked amounts to projects within CONCACAF and CONMEBOL, given that they suffered significantly as a result of the criminal activities,” FIFA said.

“Our work isn’t finished,” said Michael J. Driscoll of the FBI’s New York Field Office, “and our promise to those who love the game — we won’t give up until everyone sees justice for what they’ve done.”

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