KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- The FIFAGate scandal refuses to go away, whatever Gianni Infantino, president of the world football federation may wish and try to insist.
In the latest twists and turns of a crisis which exploded back in 2015 Israel’s largest bank has been fined for being a conduit for dirty FIFAGate cash, a trial date was set for a Nasser Al-Khelaifi and Jerome Valcke over a World Cup TV deal and a leaked report indicated that Swiss prosecutors halted a police case in contentious circumstances against ex-FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
As if Infantino did not have enough challenges, with the coronavirus pandemic having largely halted all football around the world and thrown the national and international calendars into chaos.
Firstly, in Washington, the United States Department of Justice announced that Israel’s Bank Hapoalim had agreed to pay $30m in fines and penalties for its role in a money-laundering and bribery scheme.
Simultaneously the bank also agreed to pay a massive $875m in a deferred prosecution agreement after admitting agreeing to hide more than $7.6bn for US taxpayers in accounts in Switzerland and Israel.
In the FIFAGate ‘corner’ of the case Bank Hapoalim and its Swiss subsidiary admitted they, through employees, conspired to launder over $20m in bribes and kickbacks to football involved with FIFA and national associations in South, central and North America.
Assistant Attorney General Brian A Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s criminal division said: “For nearly five years, Bank Hapoalim employees used the U.S. financial system to launder 10s of millions of dollars in bribe payments to corrupt soccer officials in multiple countries.”
Bank executives admitted they allowed the illicit activity to continue even after employees reported it, according to the DOJ and Federal Bureau of Investigation.
As part of the deal, U.S. prosecutors have agreed they will not prosecute the bank for three years in return for cooperation from the bank and other remedial efforts, the DOJ said.
Secondly, in Switzerland, Qatari Nasser al-Khelaifi – head of beIN Media and president of French champions Paris Saint-Gerrmain – was notiried that he should go on trial on September 14 in a case concerning the provision of a luxury holiday villa to for the use of ex-FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke.
Also charged is another broadcasting executive who has yet to be identified.
Al-Khelaifi, who is also a member of the executive committee of European federation UEFA on behalf of the top clubs, was charged in February with inciting Valcke to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement.
The three-year investigation has centred on Valcke obtaining the use of the Sardinia villa rent free in 2014 and 2015. At the time, he played a central role in awards of broadcasting rights to the 2026 and 2030 World Cups.
Earlier Al-Khelaifi failed in a court attempt to have three prosecutors recused from a case. This is thought to have followed revelations about secret meetings between Attorney-General Michael Lauber and colleagues with FIFA president Infantino.
Oddly, the wife of the case prosecutor reportedly works in UEFA’s legal department.
It is not known whether Infantino’s meetings had any connection with the Swiss investigation into Blatter.
A leaked report from investigators concluded that Blatter knew a World Cup broadcasting contract had been awarded in breach of regulations to Jack Warner, then president of the central and north American confederation CONCACAF.
Warner is currently contesting an extradition application by the US authorities lodged in Trinidad & Tobago.
Investigation reports sent to prosecutors in December and January showed FIFA wrote off a $3.8m debt from 2005 the Caribbean TV deal agreed by Blatter and Warner.
However, the office of the attorney general decided in March to drop criminal proceedings against Blatter.
The week started badly for Lauber when a fraud case against three former senior German federation officials and anther ex-FIFA executive (Urs Linsi) collapsed after failing to ‘beat’ a statute of limitations.