Pieth: The man who believes in Blatter

Mark Pieth believes that FIFA will approve the reforms of the Independent Governance Committee on its congress in Budapest. Photo: OECD/Flickr

At its Congress in Budapest taking place on 23-25 May, FIFA will demonstrate how deeply it wants to clean its dirt. A week before the crucial vote Mark Pieth remained a believer. In this interview with Ezequiel Fernández Moores from 11 May, Pieth discusses his work on FIFA’s Independent Governance Committee. The interview, which has been translated from Spanish, was first published in the newspaper La Nación Journal.

Mark Pieth, criminal lawyer and head of department at Basel University thinks that FIFA's Congress in Budapest will approve the first step of a reform plan.

Pieth, Chairman of the Independent Governance Committee (IGC) fuelled by FIFA President Joseph Blatter, is optimistic in spite of others’ resignations. Transparency International (TI) left because it didn't see Blatter as being motivated to solve old cases. Journalists Andrew Jennings, Jens Weinreich and Jean Francois Tanda, all experts on FIFA's corruption affairs, also declined the opportunity to work with Pieth. So did Thomas Kistner, who has just published an unmistakable book named ‘FIFA Mafia’.

"We have seen serious abuse, but I don't use the word ‘mafia’, I don't like it," Pieth tells me. On a trip to Buenos Aires to take part in a conference for private companies about anticorruption rules, Pieth, 58, carefully selects each word. He wants to avoid problems before the Budapest vote. He requests that our chat, held in the Panamerican Hotel, is kept to an interview format; question and answer. He also asks me to allow him to read the report before it gets published.

Q: You worked with the Swiss government on legislation of money laundering and corruption cases, in 2004 you were an investigator for the UN "Oil for food" programme in Iraq and since 1990 you have investigated bribery cases in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Can you tell me, how much corruption did you find in football compared the others fields you have worked in?

A: I told you I don't like the word mafia. I can speak of serious abuses. FIFA is now a global organisation, which earns more than USD 1 billion per year, but it also has a structure similar to a friends’ club which must absolutely be changed. It can't keep giving away money in an amateur way, like a gentlemen’s club in the 20s.

Q: Is the picture you discovered within FIFA more or less similar to other global organisations?

A: Let's not speak just about international organisations. If, for instance, we take the Argentine government, after some things I have seen from the outside and that I only know from a distance, it works in a similar way. But, I must also say, we should ask ourselves why Switzerland is the home base for more than sixty sport organisations; FIFA, IOC, UEFA, etc. That isn't normal. Swiss banking secrecy, which I had already criticised, is really close to the heart of this. Switzerland gives its country as a pirate port, and I think it has a responsibility in that.  

It must demand a minimum of organisation from these sports corporations, which are considered non-profit organisations and therefore do not have to pay taxes and do not have to abide by anti-corruption laws.

Q: Do you really believe FIFA wants to clean its house?

A: The period from today until May 25th will be very significant – anything can happen. The Executive Committee, which has already lost a fifth of its original members after recent scandals and where people can now really lose something, has already approved by unanimous decision to take the first step on the Budapest Congress. It consists of the creation of an absolutely independent judge and a prosecutor as well, alien to football and with proven authority to investigate affairs, present or past, because there is no prescription for corruption cases. You need three quarters of the vote in order to get it approved.

The other points of the project foresee financial controls, integrity controls for every FIFA member, ruling about conflicts of interest, the disclosure of remuneration received by senior officials and limitations (two terms of four years) for the duration in office. FIFA requested more time for that. FIFA told us that they don't work as the old USSR and that they must open up a debate. FIFA requested to treat these issues at the next Congress, in 2013.

Q: What will you do if the Budapest Congress doesn't approve the first part?

A: I'm convinced that we will overcome the initial stage. The toughest fight will take place in the second stage, where 208 federations will decide whether they want it or not. If they say no, if they are fools; we cannot force them to be democratic. In global enterprises this took some time, but 10 years ago we didn't even know how much their executives earned. Now we do.

Q: If it is approved, and an independent judge is finally appointed, this person will be able to dive into the past, especially in the ISL case. ISL, FIFA's commercial partner, paid USD 130 million in bribes before going bankrupt. We know FIFA returned money to this bankruptcy and this way got the file. Swiss Supreme Court will decide in a few months from today if the media can have access to this extrajudicial agreement. What is your opinion about that?

A: In our file we requested that FIFA should reveal this agreement. We failed. We want to know what happened. FIFA gave us free access to several big cases, but not the ISL case. I think justice will approve the spreading of this agreement, but without revealing the names that were involved.

Q: It would make no difference...

A: It will be much easier to know who they were.

Q: Press reports revealed three of the implicated names: Ricardo Teixeira, who had to resign from the Brazilian Football Confederation; Joao Havelange, who had to leave the IOC but not FIFA, and Nicolás Leoz, who has just been re-elected as Conmebol’s “president for life”.

A: In my personal opinion I think if it is clear that you received money, then you must resign. Anyone on this list should quit.

Q: Another case comes from claims about buying votes for Russia and Qatar when they were selected as hosts for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

A: If it is discovered that grave things took place, then it should be looked into but without removing the host. That would be another subject. If a corruption case comes to light during the building of a bridge you investigate, but you don't stop the building of the bridge.

Q: Transparency International stopped working with you. Many journalists who have investigated FIFA also rejected the invitation. They say the money that Basel University got from FIFA (USD 128,000) removes the independency and credibility of your work.

A: I was honoured by Transparency International in 2007 for my work against corruption through 22 years in the OECD, but its attitude towards my job for FIFA disappointed me, because they worked along with us and FIFA. They also get money from someone. Siemens and other enterprises pay them. I have worked for free several times in my life, but I don't think FIFA qualifies to get free work.

Q: And what about the journalists? (Jennings, Weinreich, Tanda and Kistner said that, before changing its statutes, FIFA must firstly investigate its "20-year corruption period" and that they consider it "absurd" that Blatter, the main suspect, is the one "monitoring the cleaning process").

A: When I first started my work I read Jennings' two books about FIFA (Foul) and the IOC (Lords of the Rings). I intended to meet him. But then I realised that it's hard for journalists to work together, because they always need exclusive information.

Q: I told Jennings I was coming to see you and he literally told me: "I think Pieth thinks that by making some reforms he will be embraced by a grateful FIFA and that he afterwards will be able to say that he reformed the football world. “I would ask Pieth if Blatter isn’t just making a fool of him”.

A: I don't see it that way. In the short time that we've been working in the Independent Governance Committee, we have achieved more changes than anyone in FIFA in the last decades.

Q: You said a couple of days ago that, if your work fails, you will put pressure on the Swiss government in order for them to demand more obligations from sport organisations.

A: I know how to do it. During my 22 years in the OECD I gained experience in this, for instance when I was putting pressure on Argentina’s government on corruption issues. So I know how to work with governments. I have enough capacity to ask the Swiss government to enforce more restrictions on an organisation which itself declares to be non-profit. But, of course, if that happens, it is because my plan hasn't been approved. And then I wouldn't be working with FIFA anymore.

Find Pieth’s report and media releases from the Independent Governance Committee here

This article was first published in Spanish in the newspaper La Nación Journal on 16 May, and has been republished on playthegame.org with kind permission from the author.


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