New FIFA president's former role at UEFA is under scrutiny after being drawn into the Panama Papers scandal
UEFA and FIFA almost fell over themselves rushing out statements in defence of Gianni Infantino after the new FIFA president found himself the latest football figure caught up in fallout from the “Panama Papers”.
A vast leak of “insider documentation” at the weekend laid bare how the rich and powerful, including heads of state, use tax havens created in the central American republic by specialist firm Mossak and Fonseca to shield their wealth.
The papers were shared by Germany’s SuddeutscheZeitung with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. World football was drawn into the fray by references in the papers to – among others – FIFA ethics lawyer Juan Pedro Damiani, ex-secretary-general Jerome Valcke, UEFA president Michel Platini and Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi.
Infantino, elected as FIFA president in February with a mandate to reform the battered world federation, has been dragged in through contracts he endorsed a decade ago in his then role as head of the European federation’s legal division.
UEFA and Infantino, through FIFA, have denied any imputation of wrongdoing but the issue which has arisen is unfortunate, to say the least, considering the reputational difficulties of both organisations.
A swath of senior FIFA personalities have been indicted by the United States Department of Justice over a $200m corruption investigation while Platini remains UEFA president despite a worldwide ban for FIFA ethics code violations over a $2m “disloyal payment”.
In 2006 Infantino signed off on a contract to sell the 2006-09 Champions League television rights to a marketing company named Cross Trading. The $111,000 deal was set up by UEFA’s rights partner TEAM Marketing. Subsequently Cross Trading sold the rights on at a significant profit to Ecuadorian TV channel Teleamazonas for $311,170.
In March 2007 Cross Trading came back to pay $28,000 for TV rights to the UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup, duly selling those to Teleamazonas for $126,200.
The “Panama Papers” have revealed that Cross Trading was an offshore company registered initially in the tiny island of Niue and then, from 2006, in the Seychelles. It had been created by Mossack Fonseca through the law firm of the Uruguayan Juan Pedro Damiani, a member of the FIFA ethics committee since 2006. His role is now subject to a FIFA ethics investigation.
The directors of Cross Trading were Argentinan father and son Hugo and Mariano Jinkis who were also senior directors of the Argentinian rights agency TyC.
Both contracts were initialled by Hugo Jinkis and Infantino in his role as UEFA legal affairs director, a position he occupied between 2004 and 2007 before becoming general secretary in 2009.
However… Hugo and Mariano Jinkis were both named in last year’s US FIFAGate indictments and are currently contesting extradition. Also, Cross Trading was identified as a vehicle through which tens of millions of dollars in bribes were paid to various Latin American football officials out of commercial revenues generated by South American confederation CONMEBOL.
Last September the Süddeutsche Zeitung asked UEFA if any of its leaders or has had, over the last 20 years, commercial relations with one or more of 14 persons indicted by the US. The SDZ sent UEFA the list of defendants which included Hugo and Mariano Jinkis.
UEFA responded that it had never had “no commercial relationship with the persons mentioned or their businesses”.
Five days after Infantino’s FIFA ascension the SDZ submitted the same question. On March 8, a FIFA spokesman responded that “Gianni Infantino has never dealt personally or as general secretary of UEFA, in its time, with one of the persons or organisations named”.
On March 23, SDZ journalists emailed UEFA the contract endorsed in 2006 by Infantino and Cross Trading. According to SDZ the agreement also included a reference to Traffic Sports Europe, led by Brazilian Jose Hawilla who has admitted his personal role in the FIFAGate case and is awaiting sentence.
Yesterday UEFA back-tracked.
A statement denied “untoward or improper conduct” while conceding that “at the time of our initial response we had not had the opportunity to check each and every one of our (thousands) of commercial contracts and so the answer given was initially incomplete”.
It explained: “That is the reason why Gianni Infantino initially thought, based on the information provided by UEFA, that there had been no previous UEFA contracts with any companies and/or individuals named in the indictment. That is also why FIFA gave this information to the media.”
The statement went on to laud Infantino as “a man who has always acted with complete professionalism and integrity”.
Obviously UEFA and Infantino could not have known that, a decade later, Cross Trading and Hugo and Mariano Jinkis would be chased down by the US DoJ.
Infantino issued through FIFA his own rebuttal of any doubt over his veracity, insisting: “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.”
In fact, as UEFA had conceded, initially all facts had not been disclosed.
Such is the current fevered state concerning the credibility of not only international football bodies but sports governance in general that such an oversight would inevitably rebound sooner or later… even without any wrongdoing having been committed.
Football names in the Panama Papers:
Juan Pedro Damiani (Uruguay, FIFA ethics committee member), Eduardo Deluca (ex-CONMEBOL secretary general), Eugenio Figueredo (former FIFA vice-president, CONMEBOL president and Uruguay FA president), Jose Hawilla (Brazilian businessman, owner of the Traffic conglomerate), Gabriel Heinze (ex-Argentina defender), Gianni Infantino (FIFA president, former UEFA general secretary), Hugo and Mariano Jinkis (Argentinian marketing agents, directors of Cross Trading), Nicolas Leoz (Paraguay, ex-CONMEBOL president), Lionel Messi (Argentina and Barcelona, FIFA World Player of the Year), Michel Platini (banned French president of UEFA), Clarence Seedorf (ex-Holland midfielder), Jerome Valcke (banned ex-secretary-general of FIFA), Ivan Zamorano (ex-Chile international).
UEFA is dismayed by certain stories in the media suggesting that there might have been untoward or improper conduct in connection with a television rights contract concluded with a company based in Ecuador in 2006.
For the record, and as repeatedly explained to the explained to the media, there was never any suggestion that anything improper took place. These explanations have been conveyed to the media in a clear, reasonable, and perfectly transparent way.
It is therefore all the more regrettable that, despite the explanations given, some sections of the media have chosen to misrepresent matters and mislead the public by suggesting or implying otherwise.
It is correct that UEFA was asked some time ago whether it had any commercial dealings with certain companies and/or individuals named in the US indictment.
At the time of our initial response we had not had the opportunity to check each and every one of our (thousands) of commercial contracts and so the answer given was initially incomplete.
That is the reason why Gianni Infantino initially thought, based on the information provided by UEFA, that there had been no previous UEFA contracts with any companies and/or individuals named in the indictment. That is also why FIFA gave this information to the media.
We have now had the opportunity to conduct a full review of our commercial contracts and, as regards this particular TV contract in Ecuador dating back to 2006, it should be pointed out that rights in question were awarded after an open tender conducted by TEAM Marketing, acting on behalf of UEFA.
The rights were awarded to Teleamazonas/Cross Trading because they made the highest offer on the market.
For the record, neither UEFA nor Gianni Infantino have ever been contacted by any authorities in connection with this particular contract. Of course, if UEFA is contacted for any reason then it will be more than happy to cooperate.
Furthermore, and given the way in which this story has been misrepresented in the media, UEFA wishes to go on record with the statement that Gianni Infantino has been an outstanding member of UEFA staff for many years, a man who has always acted with complete professionalism and integrity, and that this attempted slur on his character and on the reputation of UEFA, based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever, is not only a sad day for football but also a sad day for journalism.
UEFA would also like to take this opportunity to affirm that as always it is totally open to discuss and explain all relevant background information to the media on this or any other matter.
Gianni Infantino statement:
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.
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.