Fallout from the leaked Panama Papers has reached the heart of FIFA after the documents revealed President Gianni Infantino signed off on a contract with a company under criminal investigation in the United States as part of the widespread probe into corruption within world football’s governing body.
The deal in question was agreed with Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, owners of a company called Cross Trading in 2006, and was rubber-stumped when Infantino, the Swiss lawyer who was elected as FIFA President in February, was director of legal services at UEFA.
It involved Cross Trading, an offshore company registered to the small Pacific island Niue, paying $111,000 (£78,000/€98,000) for the Ecuadorian rights to the Champions League, UEFA’s flagship club competition, for the 2006 to 2007 and 2008 to 2009 campaigns.
Hugo and Mariano Jinkis then sold them on for almost three times as much to Ecuadorian TV broadcaster Teleamazonas, who paid $311,170 (£220,000/€270,000), according to the documents.
There is no suggestion Infantino, who has been a strong advocate of creating a new start for FIFA following the tumultuous developments last year, took a bribe.
“I am dismayed and will not accept that my integrity is being doubted by certain areas of the media, especially given that UEFA has already disclosed in detail all facts regarding these contracts,” Infantino said in a statement released this evening.
“From the moment I was made aware of the latest media enquiries on the matter, I immediately contacted UEFA to seek clarity.
“I did this because I am no longer with UEFA, and it is they who exclusively possess all contractual information relating to this query.
“In the meantime, UEFA has announced that it has been conducting a review of its numerous commercial contracts and has answered extensively all media questions related to these specific contracts.
“As I previously stated, I never personally dealt with Cross Trading nor their owners as the tender process was conducted by Team Marketing on behalf of UEFA.
“I would like to state for the record that neither UEFA nor I have ever been contacted by any authorities in relation to these particular contracts.
“Moreover, as media themselves report, there is no indication whatsoever for any wrongdoings from neither UEFA nor myself in this matter.”
There is also no implication that Teleamazonas was complicit in any wrongdoing.
Cross Trading is accused of paying millions of dollars in bribes to secure marketing and broadcast rights to tournaments in South America.
The Jinkis duo are currently fighting extradition from Argentina to the US.
The development marks the first time UEFA have been implicated in the criminal probe into prolonged wrongdoing at FIFA.
European football’s governing body had previously denied they were in any way connected or involved with those who have been indicted by US criminal authorities.
The organisation has leapt to the defence of the contract and insisted rights were sold “pursuant to an open, competitive, tender process”.
“There is no suggestion whatsoever of any UEFA official or marketing partner taking any form of bribe or kickback, whether in relation to this tiny deal, or any other commercial transaction,” UEFA said in a statement.
“The TV contract in question was signed by Gianni Infantino since he was one of several UEFA directors empowered to sign contracts at the time.
“As you will have observed, the contract was also co-signed by another UEFA director.
“It’s standard practice.”
The contract is one of 11 million documents which have been leaked from Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca, which has sent shockwaves throughout the sporting world and has cast light on various offshore accounts.
FIFA were dragged into the furore when the documents showed a connection between Ethics Committee member Juan Pedro Damiani, who also has links to Cross Trading, and Uruguayan counterpart Eugenio Figueredo, charged by US authorities with money laundering and wire fraud.
The revelation prompted FIFA’s Ethics Committee to launch an immediate investigation into Damiani’s link with Figueredo, one of seven officials arrested at the Baur Au Lac hotel in Zurich last May.
Other footballing officials, including former secretary general Jérôme Valcke, who was recently banned for 12 years for a series of ethics breaches, and suspended UEFA President Michel Platini, have also been named in the Panama Papers.
- By Liam Morgan
- Republished with permission insidethegames.biz