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GENEVA, Aug 25, (AP): The US Department of Justice declared FIFA and other soccer bodies to be victims of corrupt former officials and said Tuesday they should get more than $200 million from cash forfeited in a sprawling investigation. A first amount of $32.2 million will be paid into a “World Football Remission Fund” overseen by the FIFA Foundation charity, federal prosecutors said. FIFA’s charity supports projects in schools, helps the sport recover after natural disasters, develops women’s and girls’ soccer, and the FIFA Legends program that uses former players as ambassadors. The forfeited money – in a case unsealed in 2015 that led to more than 50 people or corporate entities charged – will now be under FIFA’s control in Zurich though it mostly never belonged to the world soccer body. The money was typically linked to bribes and kickbacks from broadcasting and sponsor deals for continental competitions in the Americas and national deals for World Cup qualifying games.
More than $150 million was to be forfeited by Jose Hawilla, the Brazilian marketing executive who has since died. His group of agencies had close relationships with South American soccer body CONMEBOL and North America’s CONCACAF. In separate statements, Paraguaybased CONMEBOL said it was entitled to $71 million of the forfeited money and Miami-based CONCACAF said its share was $70 million. Each soccer body lost a succession of presidents who resigned in the scandal. That would leave $60 million for FIFA though it will control distribution of all the money, which Infantino said would be subject to “strict monitoring, auditing and compliance checks.” It is unclear how much total cash has been recovered though the DOJ said “well over” the initial $32.2 million granted “has been seized and has been or is expected to be forfeited to the United States in the Eastern District of New York.”
The remission deal follows more than five years after FIFA claimed tens of millions of dollars in restitution for itself from money held by prosecutors who secured dozens of guilty pleas from soccer and marketing executives, mostly in the Americas. Some are still awaiting sentencing in federal court in Brooklyn years after admitting charges of financial wrongdoing including racketeering conspiracy. Indicted soccer officials have avoided extradition while remaining in Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago. Demanding that all players be released for World Cup qualifiers, Infantino has asked British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to lift quarantine requirements for footballers to allow them to travel next week to play for their countries.
Infantino himself took advantage of an exemption in place for the European Championship so he could fl y into London from Rio de Janeiro in July and avoid the mandatory 10 days of hotel quarantine in England. The Premier League defied FIFA to decide on Tuesday that almost 60 players from 19 clubs would not be released next week to fl y off to qualifiers in 26 countries on England’s red list – including all South American nations. The Spanish league also said it would support any of its clubs that did not want to release players for international duty with South American teams, over concerns about the lack of recovery time to resume games with their clubs. Unlike for other international fixtures during the pandemic, FIFA is no longer allowing exemptions for players to opt out of the trips if they are forced to quarantine on their return to countries to resume club duties. Clubs face FIFA sanctions if they refuse to release players. The Spanish league hit out at FIFA’s “unilateral decision” to grant two additional days for South American countries to play games in both September and October so three qualifiers can be played in each window, rather than the usual two. That means, regardless of any quarantine requirements on their return, players would likely not be rested enough to play for their clubs when leagues resume.