Sepp Blatter: both sides of the ISL coin . . .


— LONDON/ZURICH: FIFA and Sepp Blatter have been rescued, by a Swiss court, from facing two different ways at once over the highly contentious ISL court papers.

The hitherto contradictory positions of the world football federation and its president emerged after a Swiss prosecutor and newspaper won a significant court victory over the ISL issue.

The Supreme Court of the Canton of Zug has granted a joint application by the prosecutor’s office and Handelszeitung for the release of a court document identifying two officials alleged to have accepted bribes during the two decades in which ISL was FIFA’s marketing partner.

The three stated objectors who want to keep the document secret and who have 30 days in which to appeal are unnamed individuals referred to as only B2 and B3 as well as . . . FIFA itself. FIFA has since said that it has now accepted the judgment which means that, albeit two months later than necessary, it can claim to be putting words into action. 

Exactly why FIFA fought on in court in defiance of the words of its own president the world federation had not sought to explain . . . until now, through a statement that “FIFA did not pull back from the appeal as the court decided about the anonymization of certain parts of the document. A decision which FIFA required.”

Blatter had announced two months ago, after receiving the go-ahead from his executive committee, that the confidential ISL case file should be examined by the exco in mid-December. A review by an independent panel would be followed by publication in one form or another.

This was presented by Blatter as a demonstration of his good faith in pursuing a programme of organizational reform.

Early this month, however, the planned publication was halted after a new injunction was granted by a Zug court on the application of a person or persons unknown.

Publication prevention

At the time, in an official FIFA press release, Blatter was quoted as saying: “I have now been advised that as a result of the objection of a third party to such transparency it will take more time to overcome the respective legal hurdles.”

A Christmas-time judgment, however, has compromised FIFA’s intent and credibility because – incredibly, considering Blatter’s words in mid-October – FIFA itself had continued to be a party to a court action blocking publication of ISL files.

ISL/ISMM was created in 1982 to run FIFA’s commercial activities by the late Adidas heir Horst Dassler. It went bankrupt in 2001 with reported debts of $300m after a commercially suicidal attempt to widen its business portfolio beyond FIFA and the IOC.

Reports later emerged of an ISL list of names of leading sports officials to whom illicit payments had been made in pursuit of TV and marketing contracts. Those named allegedly included ex-FIFA president Joao Havelange, his ex-son-in-law Ricardo Teixeira (CBF president), Nicolas Leoz (South American confederation president) and Issa Hayatou (African confederation president).

Both Teixeira and Hayatou are current and long-serving members of the FIFA executive committee (though Teixeira is currently on leave of absence on health grounds); Havelange quit the International Olympic Committee earlier this month rather than face an expected two-year suspension for accepting monies from ISL; Hayatou was reprimanded by the IOC on similar grounds (when Lamine Diack, president of the international athletics federation, was also handed an IOC warning).

On May 11, 2010, a criminal investigation by Swiss prosecutors into the illegal payment of ISL monies to two “world-renowned public figures” referred to only as B2 and B3 was wound up after the duo paid 5.5m Swiss francs into court. No guilt was ever admitted.

The relevant court-endorsed agreement was subject to a confidentiality clause concerning the identities of the two officials.

Legal action

Of course, this only fed suspicions of wrongdoing and corruption at the heart of the world football federation. So, within weeks, Handelszeitung launched legal action to try to access details of the agreement.

Handelszeitung has reported how prosecutors’ attempts to open up the court document have been blocked on two occasions by FIFA and the two unnamed individuals, most recently in the Zug High Court on May 24, 2011.

It said not only that the papers showed details of illicit payments but, exacerbating the damage, that some FIFA officials had known about them but had not taken any action.

The latest, Christmas-time court plea was independent of the early-December injunction against FIFA’s ‘transparency’ move but the two are clearly inter-related.

This makes the decision of the Supreme Cantonal Court so significant and its observation that it considers the opening of the file to be a matter of public interest.

A three-man panel headed by Judge F Ulrich sat on December 22 to hear the Zug Cantonal prosecutors’ office and Handelszeitung demand the release of the court document and the scrapping of identity protection for B2 and B3.

The written judgment, signed off on December 23 by Judge Ulrich, demonstrated how the court’s attitude to the case had changed.

No right to protection

Initially it treated the agreement as a private arrangement. Now it had decreed that ‘open justice’ was appropriate given the public status of FIFA, the passing of 10 years since ISL’s bankruptcy and the fact that B2 and B3 have no especial personal or commercial status to protect within Switzerland.

Hence the court papers state: Die Beschwerden werden abgewiesen – the objections are rejected.

FIFA’s reaction, suggesting it will not appeal, means that, after an inexplicable two-month delay, the federation and its president are speaking with the same voice.

This does not, of course, prevent B2 and B3 from fighting on to keep the ISL case file from public view.

FIFA, asked to clarify the apparent contradictions of wanting the ISL case file both open and closed simultaneously, reiterated the following comment via its media department: “FIFA has taken note of the decision passed by the Supreme Court of the Canton of Zug. FIFA will not appeal against this decision as it corresponds to the position of FIFA and its President, Joseph S. Blatter, to open the ISL/ISMM case file.

“We trust you will understand that FIFA is not in a position to issue any statements regarding the contents until the dossier has been published.”