FIFA president Gianni Infantino has made a further defence of his position vis-a-vis the ‘Panama Papers’ leak concerning his role in a television rights deal.
“The way it has been presented is simply a disgrace,” said Infantino, lining himself up with former employer UEFA and its commercial agency TEAM Marketing in blaming the media messenger for the embarrassment caused.
Infantino was elected new president of FIFA in February in succession to disgraced and banned Sepp Blatter with a mandate to try to clean up the world federation after years of image-wrecking scandals.
The issue arose after a massive leak from offshore company specialist Mossak Fonseca revealed that Panama-based Cross Trading, controlled by directors subsequently indicted in the FIFAGate scandal, had made a significant profit on the resale of Champions League TV rights.
The initial sale of the rights, a decade ago, had been signed off in 2006 by two UEFA directors including Infantino who was then head of the European federation’s legal division.
Cross Trading paid $111,000 sold on the rights after tender to the Ecuadorian broadcaster Teleamazonas for $311,700.
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.
An investigation was subsequently launched by the Office of the Swiss Attorney-General into ‘suspicion of criminal mismanagement’. Police raided the offices of both UEFA and TEAM in search of relevant documentation.
Obviously no-one had any idea back in 2006 that Cross Trading directors Hugo and Mariano Jinkis would later become the target of the United States Department of Justice investigation into fraud, conspiration and corruption at the highest levels in Latin American football.
In an interview with the German magazine Kicker, Infantino said: “The whole process was correct and well documented. The way it has been presented is simply a disgrace.
“The agency’s marketing team had recommended that the highest of only two tenders received a contract for the ancillary rights.
“The contract was negotiated by the marketing team in detail and examined by two divisions of UEFA, which according to standard procedure, was signed by two UEFA directors.
“In this case, I was one of the two directors, but depending on availability, it could have been two other directors.
“If, after the contract was concluded, the rights-buyers carried out some unfair transactions, neither UEFA nor I had any personal influence over that.”
Infantino said he was confident he would be vindicated “when all the things are on the table.”
UEFA had contributed to the initial confusion by denying any commercial or contractual relationship with Cross Trading and directors Hugo and Mariano Jinkis despite having been supplied with the specific names by journalists working on the Panama Papers.
Later UEFA backtracked and admitted that its initial answer had been “incomplete.” Further research had revealed indeed that Infantino was one of two UEFA officials who had signed off on the original agreement.
However UEFA sought to lay blame for the furore on “sad journalism” while a TEAM executive denounced “a particularly shameful attempt by certain sections of the media to cast aspersions on the reputation of the FIFA president.”
Sylvia Schenk, the sports specialist of Transparency International and a heavyweight critic of FIFA, has come out on Infantino’s side.
She told German media at the weekend: “The head of a legal department performs rarely contract negotiations. Also, for UEFA this was a minor agreement. Infantino could not have been expected to make a detailed examination himself but would have had people to do that.
“I doubt whether UEFA, in 2006, was able to assess the market situation and prices in Ecuador in detail.”
However she did say that UEFA’s crisis management had left much to be desired.