February 15, 2016 / 8:04 PM / 2 years ago

Exclusive: CONCACAF lawyers warn of serious risks if reforms fail

4 Min Read

MIAMI (Reuters) - CONCACAF, the corruption-plagued soccer organization for North and Central America and the Caribbean, could face dramatic consequences, including being disbanded, if it fails to reform, the organization's lawyers have told its members.

Miami-based CONCACAF, one of the six confederations within FIFA, has been at the center of the FIFA scandal which has seen 41 individual and entities indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The last three presidents of CONCACAF are among those who have been indicted along with former general secretary, American Chuck Blazer. The charges include bribery, money laundering, racketeering and conspiracy.

Trinidadian Jack Warner, who was president of CONCACAF for 21 years until 2011, has been charged by the Department of Justice and is currently fighting extradition to the United States.

Representatives of CONCACAF's 41-member associations were given a briefing by the body's lawyers in Miami on Friday where they were urged to back a comprehensive reform package which will be voted on later this month.

The lawyers warned of difficulties with broadcast partners, sponsors and banks, FIFA itself and the risk of government action if change is not enacted.

CONCACAF is currently viewed as a victim by the Department of Justice and is conducting an internal investigation in coordination with the department.

But the legal presentation, a copy of which has been seen by Reuters, warned the members that they risked losing that status if they did not enact changes.

"Without reform CONCACAF risks - criminal convictions or deferred/non prosecution agreement; disbanding CONCACAF as an organization, freezing of accounts and/or forfeiture of CONCACAF assets; U.S government imposing a Monitor to closely regulate CONCACAF compliance with anti-corruption laws for up to five years or more," read the presentation.

The members were also reminded that they risked losing access to forfeited funds, potentially in the millions, if CONCACAF does not retain its status as 'victim'.

Among the cases involving CONCACAF officials are a series of broadcasting and sports marketing deals that the Department of Justice alleges included massive kickbacks and bribes.

Since the arrest of Warner's replacement as CONCACAF president, Jeffrey Webb, on May 27, the organization has terminated all media rights agreements with Traffic Sports and Datisa, two of the companies that feature in the indictments.

CONCACAF has also ended 18 "bogus vendor relationships", the lawyers said.

The presentation said it was extraordinary that the DOJ considers CONCACAF a "victim" given the extent of corruption alleged.

CONCACAF will hold a special congress in Zurich on Feb. 26, a day before FIFA votes on its own reforms and elects a new president.

A series of changes to the organization's statutes, including term limits and the introduction of independent members of oversight committees, will be put to the vote.

Samir Gandhi, of law firm Sidley Austin, who is CONCACAF's attorney, has been heavily involved in drafting the reforms and told Reuters that after making the presentation he was confident they would be supported.

"We have got consensus to fundamentally change the governance of soccer (in the region)," Gandhi said.

"The fact is that the organization is in a lot of trouble and I think people recognize that. But we are in an enviable position in that we have a choice to make," he said.

Gandhi said there was support for most of the reforms with discussions continuing about some of the details.

"They have an opportunity to fix things. Most companies in this situation don't get that opportunity, its not like the mafia goes around and says we are going to clean up ourselves and everything will be alright," he said.

"We are getting the chance. We get to clean ourselves up".

Reporting By Simon Evans; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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