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FIFA, Deemed a Victim of Its Own Scandal, Will Share $200 Million Payout
25 Aug 2021

Even as top soccer officials were still being arrested as part of a sprawling corruption investigation in 2015, lawyers for the sport’s global governing body and U.S. prosecutors began to embrace an intriguing premise:

The soccer organization, FIFA, and its affiliates were not only the hosts of the scheme, the thinking went, they were also its victims.

For prosecutors, the notion distinguished between the hijackers and the hijacked: It held individuals accountable for their crimes but spared the organizations and the sport that they had defrauded. For FIFA and its new leaders and lawyers, the framing had a bigger benefit: It protected against prosecution, and it offered the organization a chance to reclaim the tens of millions of dollars siphoned away by corrupt officials.

Tuesday brought the payoff: Six years after a wide-ranging criminal indictment laid bare decades of corruption in global soccer on a stunning scale, and five years after those in power started pursuing a piece of the millions that American authorities were rounding up, the U.S. government approved the payment of more than $200 million to FIFA and its two member confederations most implicated in the scandal.

The repayment will begin with an initial payment of $32.3 million in forfeited funds, the Justice Department said, but prosecutors have approved a plan in which the soccer organizations could receive as much as $201 million.

In a statement, FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino, thanked the American authorities for their “fast and effective approach in bringing these matters to a conclusion, and also for their trust in general,” adding that soccer now considered itself “well past” its corrupt history.

“We will make sure that these funds are used properly and bring tangible benefits for people who really need it,” Infantino said.

The repayments will be directed to FIFA as well as to CONCACAF, the organization overseeing soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean, and CONMEBOL, which governs the sport in South America. The previous leaders of those organizations, as well as those of national soccer federations across the Americas, had been implicated in the scandal in colorful detail. More than 50 people and companies were charged in the case, and dozens have pleaded guilty. Along the way, at least two defendants have died.

The Justice Department’s decision to return millions of dollars suggested a measure of restored faith in FIFA’s management, even as the money — something the organization first requested years ago — came with strings attached: It must be walled off in a foundation and directed toward developing soccer around the world, according to Tuesday’s announcement. A significant portion of the money will be directed to projects in the Americas, FIFA said, “given that they suffered significantly as a result of the criminal activities.”

Any spending from the new account, the World Football Remission Fund, will be subject to oversight and independent audit measures, American authorities said.

The money will be held in the U.S. bank system instead of in Switzerland, where FIFA has its headquarters, according to the terms of the agreement, which were described by two people familiar with the arrangement who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the details publicly.

By Rebecca R. Ruiz and Tariq Panja, The New York Times, 24 August 2021

Read more at The New York Times

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