KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- The winds of scandal have blown the dark clouds of corruption suspicion back across the world football skies with the arrest of Angel Villar and his son Gorka.
Angel Maria Villar Llona is the longest-serving vice-president of world federation FIFA and of the European governing body UEFA. He has also been all-controlling president of the Spanish federation for the past 29 years and was re-elected for the eighth time less than three months ago.
Gorka, a lawyer like his father, was legal director and then general secretary of the South American confederation, CONMEBOL, through the latter years which saw the indictment by the United States Justice Department on corruption charges of its three immediate past presidents.
Over the past year internal Spanish football sources had been awaiting legal trouble for Villar senior though previously he had always managed to escape from the snares of controversy and continue his high-status football career.
He was rapped over the knuckles by the FIFA ethics committee for obstructing an inquiry into the scandal-wracked 2018-2022 World Cup bid process when he led the doomed Portugal/Spain cohosting campaign. The recently-released report portrayed Villar in the most arrogantly unflattering light.
Indeed, it was no secret that he was a member of the Latin coalition ‘old guard’ who tried unsuccessful to halt in its tracks the work of American ethics investigator Michael Garcia and threatened to have him sacked.
Yet Villar survived to carry on as if nothing had happened and even took up the acting role of UEFA president last year after the banishment from football of previous head Michel Platini. In that acting role Villar presented the 2016 Champions League Cup to Real Madrid in Milan and the European Championship trophy to Portugal in Paris.
Early this morning, according to Spanish media reports, the former Bilbao and Spain midfielder and his son were detained in coordinated raids organised by the central operations unit of the Spanish Civil Guard and authorised by National Court Judge National Court Santiago Pedraz.
The investigation has been running for more than a year, investigating allegations of improper influence, conflict of interest and misappropriation of funds. A statement of facts runs to more than 2,000 pages including transcriptions of three months’ worth of wire taps.
Operacion Soule – named after a French ball game from the Middle Ages – included a search of the RFEF offices in Madrid, removal of documentation and the arrest of eight other people including the FEF’s financial vice-president Juan Padron. Apart from also being an FEF vice-president Padron is also head of the Tenerife association whose secretary Ramon Hernandez Baussou was also detained.
Under scrutiny are concerns that Villar devolved federation funds to regional football bosses in return for votes. He had already said, after being re-elected for the eighth time in May, that this would be his last term in office.
Separately the courts are also examining a complaint that Villar and the Spanish federation misused €1.2m of public funds in the 2018 World Cup bid. The money, handed over originally by the national sports council, was meant to support four educational projects in Africa and Central America. None of the projects ever came to fruition and the federation agreed to hand back the cash.
Villar has claimed that his signature on the contract for an earthquake relief project in Haiti was a forgery.
Also under scrutiny is the manner in which Sports and Advisers, Gorka Villar’s law firm, secured commissions from associates of his father within FIFA. This included image and broadcasting rights from a number of national team friendly matches including a game against South Korea on June 1, 2016.
Judicial investigations are also under way into allegedly illicit channelling of RFEF funds to the cash-strapped Recreativo de Huelva and San Marino de Tenerife.
A statement from the Guardia Civil described the arrests as the result of an inquiry into “irregularities in the management of the Royal Spanish Football Federation.”
A FIFA spokesman said: “We have taken note of the media reports concerning the situation of Mr Villar Llona” and referred further inquiries to the Spanish federation.
Villar is one of the few survivors from the FIFA executive committee which voted, in December 2010, to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively. Most of the rest have been banned or quit the game of their own volition.
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