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Three questions Uefa needs to answer after Swiss police raided their HQ

Three questions Uefa needs to answer after Swiss police raided their HQ

The Panama Papers continue to cause a ruckus in the world and now Uefa and Gianni Infantino have been thrown under the bus. Of course, Uefa could have simply made an error, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some uncomfortable questions for them to answer. BY ANTOINETTE MULLER.

If a sport’s governing body claims it’s reforming, but its boss’s name appears on contracts linked to businessmen with known links to dubious dealings, has it really started to reform? That’s the question currently plaguing Fifa.

Little over a month ago, Gianni Infantino was named Fifa’s new president. He was defiant and eloquent and insisted that the embattled governing body was going to start changing.

Three cheers for transparency!” he bellowed. Well, sort of, it’s paraphrasing slightly, but you get the point.

Yet, here we are in the middle of yet another caricature routine for Fifa. On Wednesday, Swiss police raided Uefa’s offices in Nyon on the “suspicion of criminal mismanagement”, after the Panama Papers revealed that he co-signed a television rights contract in 2006 (for the Champions League, the Uefa Cup and the Super Cup) with two businessmen who have since been caught up in football’s global corruption scandal, according to The Guardian.

The police said that no specific individual was being targeted by these proceedings, while Uefa said they are fully co-operating and that they were “dismayed that his (Infantino’s) integrity was being doubted”.

The Fifa president himself released a statement saying: “I welcome any investigation conducted into this matter.” He added: “For the sake of transparency and clarity, it is essential that all elements of this dossier are disclosed, as Uefa has done.

Based on these documents, it is clear that all contractual matters were conducted properly by Uefa. Should I be required to contribute to bringing further clarification on the matter, I will of course gladly do so. It is in my interest and in the interest of football that everything should come to light.”

Ah, how delicate the media dance.

The whole shebang centres on a contract co-signed by Infantino back in 2006, detailing the sale of TV rights to a company owned by two individuals who have since been accused of bribery as part of the US investigation into corruption at Fifa. Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, his son, are currently under house arrest in Argentina and in some serious trouble with the US Department of Justice.

Their company, Cross Trading, was registered in a South Pacific tax haven and bought the TV rights for a measly $110,000. These rights were then resold to Ecuadorian broadcaster Teleamazonas for $311,170. The dodgy dealings of a tax haven-registered company seriously upselling some TV rights does not directly implicate anyone, but that is not the problem.

Uefa had previously denied having had anything to do with the people indicted by the US Department of Justice which sent Fifa into a tailspin last year. Following the raid, Uefa quickly sprang into action and reviewed some old contracts and eventually admitted that this deal was indeed done, but according to the Guardian, it was an “open tender” done through Uefa’s marketing partner, Team. The rights, Uefa says, were then sold to the highest bidder.

But Uefa isn’t the only part of Fifa caught up in the scandal. One of Fifa’s ethics committee members has a law firm which represented those very same firms through which these dodgy deals were done and there’s no doubt that Fifa and Eufa are spinning more than Malcolm Tucker in the thick of it.

The latest revalations mean the European governing body has a few questions to answer, most crucially, these:

When Fifa’s offices were raided last year, why did they not check to make sure they never dealt with any of the indicted?

Here’s the most pressing question for Uefa and Infantino. Last year, when Swiss police raided Fifa’s offices after their swoop on officials, it became quite clear that the rot in global football runs deep. Uefa insisted time and time again that it was clean and they had never dealt with the people involved, but surely they should have double- and triple-checked? Considering Cross Trading, one of the companies caught in the crosshairs of the Panama Papers, is mentioned quite frequently in the indictment, surely it’s something they would have picked up on? If Uefa could have come up with the fact that it was indeed involved so quickly after it was revealed in the Panama Papers, it’s clear that these contracts haven’t gone walkabout.

There are only a few answers. Either Uefa was too arrogant to care about the existence of these contracts, it genuinely made a mistake or, more worryingly, it was hoping nobody actually cared enough to uncover it. After all, it’s taken a massive international leak to out them as having dealt with indicted individuals, not Fifa’s ethics committee.

How exactly does the bidding process for broadcast rights work?

Uefa says the bidding process was open, but how exactly did it work? The fact that a governing body seemingly sold the rights of its flagship tournament for such a meagre sum is something Uefa will have to explain.

To put this in perspective, broadcast rights are the biggest revenue spinner for almost any sport and for the 2006-07 financial year, the year after the contract was signed, broadcast revenue made up about 62 percent of Uefa’s income. Broadcast deals generated around 819-million, with almost 44-million coming from “overseas broadcasters”. Thus, the amount the rights were sold for is pitiful.

How was the “highest bidder” determined? And, if the Jinkis duo could resell the rights all willy-nilly for almost three times the price, why did Uefa not work harder to get more cash for the rights?

Why are things so confusing?

None of these paper trails prove that Uefa or Infantino did anything wrong. The paper trail linking it all together is long. Cross Trading is an offshore subsidiary of a company called Full Play SA, which was owned by the Jinkis father and son team indicted by the US Department of Justice. The pair are accused of merging Full Play SA with Traffic Group to form Datisa, the company accused of paying bribes to football officials in order to secure TV rights.

Of course, the European governing body could not possibly have known that the Jinkis would turn out to be swindlers, but Uefa has said some confusing things. They say they were aware that Cross Trading had the mandate to act as exclusive buyer for all sports TV rights of Teleamazonas in the European region and that they had did not have “any reason to believe that there was anything suspicious or untoward about an agency relationship between Cross Trading and Teleamazonas”.

Then, in the same breath, they say that they were not aware of bilateral deals between Teleamazanoas and Cross Trading, saying these deals were “their business, not ours”.

So which one is it? They knew a business relationship existed between the two, but didn’t know about actual deals.

Bonus question for Fifa: What background checks are you doing exactly?

Before standing for Fifa president, Infantino had to undergo a credibility check. That his signature on a broadcasting contract linked to two indicted individuals seemingly having not caused an inkling of concern raises the question once again about what exactly Fifa is doing when it does background checks. If it was picked up, why was this not made public? Fifa is, after all, trying to be “new and transparent”, right? DM

Photo: A file picture dated 18 October 2015 of then UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino, reacts during the draw for the play-off matches for UEFA EURO 2016 at the UEFA Headquarters, in Nyon, Switzerland. Swiss federal police raided UEFA offices in Nyon 06 April 2016 in relation to Tv contract details leaked in the Panama Papers. EPA/JEAN-CHRISTOPHE BOTT

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