PtG Article 06.10.2011

FIFA and Jennings clash over claims that FIFA is like the mafia

In a sensational session at Play the Game, FIFA’s new communications director, Walter De Gregorio, confronted Andrew Jennings during a session on corruption in FIFA and refuted the veteran investigative journalist’s claim that he was banned from the world body for his tough line on questioning corruption claims.

De Gregorio insisted that Jennings was banned from FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich for making press conferences “his own platform” and taking up too much time in sessions that are strictly limited to 15 minutes.

Jennings vehemently denied this suggestion, insisting that his behavior had always been “polite”, and told De Gregorio that he had been banned after writing a story on a personal bonus paid to by FIFA to President Sepp Blatter.

The pair initially clashed after Jennings claimed that FIFA met all the definitions of the mafia with an all-powerful don surrounded “by greedy crooks”, provision of “protection” and a code of “omerta” that silenced any whistleblowers through exile.

De Gregorio, who only signed up for the conference two days earlier, was picked out in the audience by Jennings and challenged.

De Gregorio took the microphone and told Jennings and a packed audience: “Mafia killed and raped thousands of people. It’s disrespectful to FIFA and to people who lost their lives.”

The former editor of Swiss newspaper Blick, De Gregorio only started working at FIFA this week. After the session, he told a throng of reporters that Blatter had personally wished him “Good luck” after telling the FIFA supremo that he was coming to Cologne for Play the Game for a session on FIFA.

De Gregorio insisted to reporters that, now on the inside, he did criticize FIFA and asked “difficult questions”. He added that “FIFA is very complex” and very different on the inside to the public perception.

Media coalition files for release of files

The session was left in little doubt to Jennings’ perception of the world body. The English journalist said that he was confident a challenge to a Swiss court to release sealed documents relating to the case involving FIFA, kickbacks for media rights and the failed marketing group ISL would eventually be released. The case, which was closed last year, involved compensation and allegedly cleared Blatter and two other unnamed executives. Jennings questioned why documents for a case that allegedly cleared those involved should be suppressed. He is leading a coalition of media organizations, including the BBC, fighting a Zug court to release the documents – a challenge that FIFA is opposing.

“Why are FIFA spending money on expensive lawyers to suppress documents?” asked Jennings, who waved a paper at De Gregorio listing 167 bribe payments over the ISL case and warned the FIFA communications director: “There is more coming.”

Proof will come

Jennings was joined on stage by German investigative journalist Jens Weinreich who, like his English colleague, also recounted details of how he has been exiled from FIFA’s headquarters for asking difficult questions about corruption.

The pair both told the audience that further revelations about FIFA would be coming out soon.

Weinreich earlier claimed that the cost of buying a vote during the recent shambolic World Cup bid process was 20 million US dollars, which was “often transferred to secret tax havens.”

"I am hearing a lot about one-day accounts, one-day companies,” added Weinreich. “This is more complicated than money in brown envelopes pushed under doors. Can we prove it? Not just now.”

Weinreich called for the formation of a wide-ranging commission of law enforcement agencies, forensic accountants and members of the media to combat the corruption in FIFA.

Jennings and Weinreich both agreed that all FFA documentation should be put on line and meetings of bodies, such as the ethics committee, should be streamed over the Internet.

“There’s a need for total transparency and right now, I don’t see any” said Weinreich, who added: “Interpol should investigate FIFA.”

The presence of FIFA Director of Communications Walter De Gregorio sparked the attention of Play the Game's delegates. Photo: Tine Harden