FIFA open to help fund anti-corruption agency for sports

FIFA anti-corruption
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VIENNA — FIFA would help fund a global agency to tackle corruption in sport, its president Gianni Infantino said Monday.

Creating a body like the World Anti-Doping Agency to address financial corruption, match-fixing and the influence of organized crime in sport has been talked about for more than a decade without a detailed proposal.

“We at FIFA are ready to invest in it,” Infantino said, suggesting “maybe the creation of such an agency would help make sport safe in the decades to come.”

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As Infantino spoke at a United Nations event in Austria, the corruption trial was opening in Switzerland of three men, including Qatari soccer and television executive Nasser al-Khelaifi and former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke.

Their case arose from years-long American and Swiss investigations of suspected corruption in soccer that removed a generation of international leaders from office and helped lift Infantino to the FIFA presidency in 2016.

His funding pledge was made when signing a cooperation agreement between FIFA and the Vienna-based UN Office on Drugs and Crime, which connects international officials and programs.

Speakers at the event included diplomats from Russia and Qatar, winners of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting votes in 2010 that FIFA later asked Swiss federal prosecutors to investigate.

No convictions have been secured in Switzerland, though criminal proceedings are also open against Infantino’s predecessor Sepp Blatter and former UEFA President Michel Platini for alleged mismanagement of FIFA funds not directly linked to World Cup bidding. They were questioned in the past two weeks.

“Never again. Never again corruption in football,” said Infantino, who is himself under investigation in Switzerland over meetings he had with then-attorney general Michael Lauber.

Lauber left office two weeks ago after being disciplined for failing to declare a June 2017 meeting with Infantino where he took no notes and misleading a subsequent internal investigation.

Sepp Blatter questioned in FIFA investigation in Switzerland

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BERN, Switzerland — Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter was questioned Tuesday by Swiss investigators about a $2 million payment he authorized in 2011 to then-UEFA president Michel Platini.

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Sepp Blatter was quizzed about suspected criminal mismanagement at FIFA one day after Platini spent about three hours at the offices of Switzerland’s federal prosecutors.

The 84-year-old Blatter waved as he arrived in Bern with his lawyer, Lorenz Erni.

A criminal proceeding has been open against Blatter since the allegation was revealed in September 2015, though it was extended to Platini only three months ago.

Blatter has also been a suspect since May in a second allegation linked to $1 million of FIFA money gifted in 2010 into the control of now-disgraced Caribbean soccer leader Jack Warner.

Blatter has long denied wrongdoing during his 18-year FIFA presidency. His term ended following American and Swiss investigations of corruption in international soccer.

Platini was favored to succeed his former mentor in a February 2016 election until the $2 million allegation ended his campaign.

Blatter instructed FIFA to pay Platini after the French soccer great asked for deferred salary from a decade earlier. Platini had been an advisor in Blatter’s first presidential term from 1998-2002.

The FIFA ethics committee and the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled there was no valid verbal or written contract to pay the money.

Both men were banned from working in soccer by the FIFA ethics committee and removed from office. Blatter’s six-year ban expires next October.

Criminal case opened against FIFA president Infantino

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GENEVA — A criminal case against FIFA president Gianni Infantino was opened Thursday by a Swiss special prosecutor, plunging world soccer’s governing body in a new scandal.

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Special prosecutor Stefan Keller has concluded there is enough evidence to take the case to court after investigating the circumstances of a meeting Infantino had with Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber, who offered his resignation last week.

Keller has uncovered “elements that make up reprehensible behavior,” according to a statement from the Swiss authority overseeing the federal prosecutors office.

Keller opened a criminal case against Infantino as well as Valais prosecutor Rinaldo Arnold, and has sought authorization to open a legal case against Lauber, too, according to a statement from the Swiss authority.

Keller, a legal expert named to the post of special prosecutor on June 29, found possible infractions included abuse of public office, breach of official secrecy, “assisting offenders” and “incitement to these acts,” the supervisory authority for the office of the attorney general said in its statement, adding other criminal acts and proceedings could also be considered.

Suspects in such cases benefit from a presumption of innocence in Switzerland until legal proceedings are completed.

FIFA declined to comment but Infantino said last month “this whole thing is quite absurd.”

“To meet with the head prosecutor or attorney general of Switzerland is perfectly legitimate and it’s perfectly legal,” the FIFA president said on June 25 during a news conference held online.

Lauber offered to resign Friday only minutes before a federal court upheld allegations that he lied about a meeting he had with Infantino during a sprawling investigation into soccer corruption. It came in response to Lauber’s appeal against being disciplined in March for misconduct.

The internal disciplinary case against Lauber focused on a meeting he had with Infantino in June 2017 at a hotel in Bern, at which the prosecutor took no notes. They later both said they could not recall their discussion at what was their third meeting in a 15-month period.

“On the basis of general life experience, such a case of collective amnesia is an aberration,” the federal court ruling said last week.

Infantino gained the FIFA presidency in the fallout from the investigations that erupted around the governing body in 2015. FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who had already announced plans to resign in the wake of arrests of dozens of soccer officials, was banned from world football.

Michel Platini, the favorite to succeed Blatter and then serving as UEFA president, was also suspended, which ended his chances of leading FIFA.

In the void, Infantino, who led the UEFA administration as general secretary, saw a route to leading FIFA. The Swiss-Italian was elected in 2016, beating Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman.

The Bahraini is senior vice president of FIFA so would be in line to replace Infantino temporarily if he was suspended due to the criminal case.

Swiss prosecutors intend to drop 1 FIFA case against Blatter

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GENEVA — In a legal victory for former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, federal prosecutors in Switzerland plan to drop one of two cases open against him for suspected criminal mismanagement.

The Swiss attorney general’s office on Saturday confirmed reports they intend to close an investigation into how Blatter and soccer governing body FIFA awarded World Cup broadcast rights in the Caribbean in 2005.

The decision is the latest example in recent weeks of the Swiss FIFA cases stalling, while the separate and cooperating American investigation sparked back into life with new indictments and fresh allegations of World Cup bid bribery.

The criminal proceeding against Blatter was opened 4 + years ago and helped remove him from the presidential office he held for more than 17 years. He is serving a six-year FIFA ban from soccer.

A second criminal proceeding against Blatter – for a $2 million payment he authorized to FIFA vice president Michel Platini in 2011 for uncontracted salary – remains open, the Swiss prosecution office said.

Prosecutors said in a statement they could not give a timetable for formally terminating the Caribbean investigation.

A spokesman for Blatter was contacted for comment

The investigation was opened in September 2015 after a Swiss broadcaster published a 10-year-old FIFA contract awarding the Caribbean Football Union regional broadcast rights to the 2010 and 2014 World Cups for a combined $600,000.

The CFU was controlled by Jack Warner, the now disgraced former FIFA vice president. The rights were sold to a Jamaica-based broadcaster for a profit reportedly close to $20 million.

The document appeared to bolster Warner’s claim in 2011, after he left FIFA while implicated in bribing voters to oppose Blatter, that FIFA awarded him cheap World Cup rights in exchange for helping Blatter win presidential elections.

Swiss prosecutors said in 2015 “this contract was unfavorable for FIFA” and suspected Blatter of acting against the world soccer body’s interest. FIFA later claimed it had a 50-50 profit share with the CFU for the subsequent rights sale.

The Caribbean deal for the 2014 tournament was terminated in 2011 after Warner’s resignation from FIFA. He was banned for life in 2015 after being indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice, and has since fought extradition from Trinidad and Tobago.

American and Swiss prosecutors unsealed their separate but cooperating investigations in May 2015 when several FIFA officials were arrested in hotels in Zurich two days before Blatter won re-election.

In the past month, Swiss investigations have hit problems while in the U.S., which has seen dozens of guilty pleas and convictions, prosecutors published an updated indictment Monday that included further implicating Warner in taking bribes for his vote in World Cup hosting contests.

A first Swiss trial, into an irregular payment between German organizers of the 2006 World Cup and Blatter’s FIFA in 2005, briefly opened last month. It was adjourned amid problems conducting the process during the coronavirus pandemic in a court close to the Italian border. The trial of four soccer officials faces collapsing this month due to a statute of limitations expiring.

Prosecutors were also reportedly told by a Swiss federal judge last month to provide more evidence to back up criminal charges alleging Qatari soccer and television executive Nasser al-Khelaifi provided a luxury Italian villa to FIFA’s then secretary general, Jerome Valcke.

Al-Khelaifi denies wrongdoing and remains president of French champion Paris Saint-Germain and an executive committee member of European soccer body UEFA. Valcke was fired by FIFA and banned from soccer for 10 years.

Switzerland’s investigations are no longer overseen by the attorney general, Michael Lauber. He was recused and disciplined after it was revealed he had three meetings with current FIFA president Gianni Infantino to discuss the case, which has included at least 25 open criminal proceedings.

Momentum in the U.S. case picked up days ago when prosecutors detailed in writing for the first time that they suspect Russia and Qatar paid bribes a decade ago to voters on FIFA’s executive committee to win hosting rights, respectively, for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Extracts of emails were published to support an allegation Warner got bribes totaling $5 million in 2010 and 2011 to support Russia. That was denied by a Kremlin spokesman and the bid leader, Alexey Sorokin, now Russia’s most senior soccer official and a member of FIFA’s ruling council.

Michel Hidalgo, who coached France to EURO 1984 glory, dies

Michel Hidalgo
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PARIS (AP) Michel Hidalgo, the coach who led France to the 1984 European Championship title and the 1982 World Cup semifinals, died on Thursday. He was 87.

The French Football Federation confirmed the death.

Hidalgo coached the national team from 1976-84 and led host France to its first major title at Euro 1984 with midfielder Michel Platini scoring nine goals.

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Les Bleus reached the World Cup semifinals two years earlier but lost to West Germany in a penalty shootout.

Soccer purists adored the way Hidalgo’s teams were almost fixated on creativity, even at the expense of defending. The midfield, led by Platini, was known as the “Magic Four” and was arguably the best in the world at the time. Alain Giresse, Jean Tigana and Bernard Genghini were the other three.

“I would like to express all my affection and my support to his wife Monique, to his family and all of those close to him,” Platini said in a statement. “As a coach, Michel lifted France to the summit of its art, with determination choosing the beautiful game and allowing each one of us to express all of our ability and individual talent.”

Hidalgo coached France in 75 games, behind only Raymond Domenech and current coach Didier Deschamps.

FFF president Noel Le Graet spoke of his “immense sadness and deep emotion” upon hearing of Hidalgo’s death.

“The federation, our football, are in grieving,” Le Graet said. “With his style of play, his personality and his exemplary passion, he contributed to our sport shining at international level and its popularity in France.”

During his playing days from 1952-66, Hidalgo was an attacking midfielder who scored regularly for Le Havre, Reims and Monaco.

He won French titles and French Cups as a player, and scored in the European Cup final when Reims lost to Real Madrid 4-3 in 1956. He put his club ahead 3-2 after the Spanish team rallied from a 2-0 deficit.

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