Court orders release FIFA kickbacks documents

AP News
Posted: Jul 11, 2012 11:53 AM
Court orders release FIFA kickbacks documents

GENEVA (AP) — A World Cup kickbacks scandal that has damaged FIFA's reputation since 2001 moved a step closer to a resolution on Wednesday.

Switzerland's supreme court ordered the release of a document identifying which senior soccer officials took millions of dollars in payments from the ISL agency, FIFA's marketing partner until it collapsed into bankruptcy 11 years ago.

The Swiss Federal Tribunal said a panel of five judges ruled it was in the public interest for five media organizations to receive copies of a Zug cantonal (state) court settlement document that closed a criminal probe of the ISL case in May 2010.

"The names of the persons concerned, and personal and financial circumstances taken into account by the authorities, must equally be divulged to reporters," the court said in a statement.

The officials, who had appealed to Switzerland's highest court to block publication, are widely reported to be former FIFA President Joao Havelange and his former son-in-law Ricardo Teixeira.

The Zug court document details which officials repaid $6.1 million to end the prosecution office's investigation on condition their identities remain secret.

"FIFA is pleased that the ISL non-prosecution order can now be made public," soccer's world governing body said in a statement.

After helping broker the anonymity deal, FIFA was also a party to earlier appeals to block publication until dropping out of the case last December.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter said in October that he wanted to release the ISL dossier despite his organization seeking to deny reporters access to its contents at the same time.

Though Blatter is widely believed to be named in the reported 41-page document, as FIFA's longstanding secretary general at the time ISL controlled World Cup rights sales, he is not suspected of receiving payments.

"The decision of the Swiss Federal Court also confirms that only two foreign officials will be named as part of the process and that, as previously communicated by the prosecutor of Zug in June 2010, the FIFA president is not involved in the case," FIFA said.

FIFA also highlighted the federal judgment that "several non-accused third parties ... will not be disclosed." Their names were expected to be redacted in the published version.

Still, the ISL affair has clouded much of Blatter's 14-year FIFA presidency, and seeking closure has become central in his promised mission to improve FIFA's image and governance.

The five media parties, including Handelszeitung reporter Jean-Francois Tanda and British state broadcaster the BBC, want to establish if the soccer officials were given preferential treatment under Swiss law and if other FIFA staff were aware of the unethical payments.

The journalists won a ruling last December when a court in Zug said publication was in the public interest.

The two unnamed officials, identified in federal documents as 'B2' and 'B3,' then appealed to the higher court.

Havelange was FIFA president for 24 years before being succeeded by Blatter in 1998. The 96-year-old Brazilian, who remains FIFA's honorary president, has been treated in a Rio de Janeiro hospital this year for a bacterial infection.

He resigned his 48-year IOC membership citing health reasons in December, days before the Olympic body was due to sanction him following its own investigation into wrongdoing connected to ISL.

Teixeira resigned this year as head of Brazil's football federation and the 2014 World Cup organizing committee, and gave up his FIFA executive committee seat, citing unspecified health and personal reasons.

The ISL scandal stemmed from alleged payments of tens of millions of dollars to sports officials made by the Swiss-based agency before its collapse with debts of $300 million. Commercial bribery was not a crime in Switzerland at the time.

Six former ISL executives stood trial in 2008 and were cleared of charges relating to fraud.

In court evidence, FIFA executive committee member Nicolas Leoz, a Paraguayan who still heads the South American football confederation, was identified for receiving two ISL payments totaling $130,000 in 2000.