The world needs an independent authority fighting corruption
Swiss journalist Jean François Tanda comments on the lack of willingness to investigate corruption inside FIFA
Jack Warner, former FIFA vice president from Trinidad and Tobago, left FIFA before its Ethics Committee ended the investigation against him for alleged bribery. FIFA stopped its investigation saying it would be a “legal consequence of Swiss association law” given that Warner was no longer part of FIFA. This is what General Secretary Jérôme Valkce explained to the English parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Committee on July 20, 2011.
Valcke is wrong. Swiss association law does not prohibit FIFA from continuing its investigation of Warner. FIFA, of course, could have finished the investigation and could even have sanctioned Warner if the findings were strong enough under FIFA’s rules.
The only problem would have been how to implement possible sanctions against Warner, as FIFA only has jurisdiction over persons submitted to FIFA. In this case, the sanctions will come into effect as soon as Warner wants to re-enter FIFA – in two, five, ten years or whenever. The solution FIFA chose in the Warner case means that whenever Warner re-enters FIFA, the investigation will have to restart again maybe with new investigators, witnesses who do not precisely remember the facts and with evidence that has meanwhile become old or maybe even completely useless.
The Warner example shows what many FIFA critics have been repeating for years: There is obviously a lack of will to fight corruption inside FIFA.
What can be done to change this?
In Switzerland, bribing FIFA ExCo members who decide to whom a World Cup is granted is not forbidden, according to law. No one – except Transparency International Switzerland – was really aware of this gap in Swiss law until the Swiss daily newspaper Tages-Anzeiger made it public at the end of November last year. Suddenly, politicians from all parties wanted to change it. Today, ten months later, FIFA corruption is not a big subject in Swiss politics anymore.
The said gap in Swiss law will probably be filled, and in future countries bidding for World Cups will not be able to bribe members of the Executive Committee which until now has been awarding the championships. In future, the decisions on World Cup hosting will be taken by the members of the FIFA congress, Sepp Blatter announced before being re-elected as president by the same congress.
But will it really change anything?
Theoretically, it certainly can, but I fear that it probably will not in practice. I know prosecutors in Switzerland, and many of them do not have much interest in investigating complex circumstances. And FIFA corruption cases are always complex – as are most corruption cases – because of the international dimension. This means, for example: waiting for judicial assistance from unwilling countries, such as the British Virgin Islands or Cayman Islands, or experiencing difficulties in obtaining evidence and hearing witnesses. We have seen this with the ISL case in Zug where the investigation took around seven years to be brought to court. The second investigation into FIFA corruption that ended with a settlement took five years. It would probably still be going on if this settlement had not been made and FIFA and two FIFA officials had not paid 5.5 million Swiss francs.
FIFA corruption does not have much to do with Swiss law. The main problem is the lack of willingness to investigate corruption inside FIFA. For example, only the General Secretary, the members of the Executive Committee and the member associations can ask the Ethics Committee to investigate alleged corruption. Neither the public nor independent people from outside the “FIFA football family” can ask to do so. This can only mean that every investigation of the FIFA Ethics Committee is politically motivated. It is obvious that under these circumstances there will never be an investigation into all allegations of corruption, as was seen when Mohamad Bin Hammam accused FIFA President Blatter of having known about the Caribbean meeting and the gifts but did not intervene. The Ethics Committee never had a closer look at these allegations.
What the world needs is an independent authority that investigates alleged corruption. There are enough capable people and companies that could do this. FIFA, for example, could engage the forensic departments from companies like Deloitte Touche, KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, or similar companies. FIFA already has a global contract with the law firm Nobel & Hug in Zurich, which intervenes when it is necessary. So why not pay a global amount every year to a forensic company that would become independently active every time there is an allegation of corruption inside FIFA? By obtaining a licence as a football player or football official worldwide, everyone would have to accept to cooperate with that company if needed.
On a global level it would also be possible to create an independent World Anti-Corruption body for sports organizations, as several people have been proposing for years. By obtaining a licence as a football player or official, every member of FIFA should be forced to accept to cooperate with such an international body.
Both solutions – the international body or the forensic company – would guarantee an independent status and allow an investigation every time it seems appropriate. The investigating body would be completely independent from FIFA and, in fear of losing its good reputation, would certainly do a perfectly credible job.
Graduated in Law as well as Journalism Jean François Tanda has been working for several leading Swiss newspapers. Today he is working for the Handelszeitung. Tanda has written numerous articles on FIFA’s corruption problems as well as contributed to the book ‘Korruption im Sport’. Read more on his website.
Read more about the comment series on corruption in sport.