ZURICH(Reuters) - A member of the ethics committee responsible for rooting out corruption in soccer’s governing body FIFA has himself been placed under a preliminary investigation, the watchdog said on Sunday.
Juan Pedro Damiani was being investigated over a possible business relationship with fellow Uruguayan Eugenio Figueredo, one of the soccer officials arrested in Zurich last year, the committee said in a statement.
The committee’s chief judge, Hans-Joachim Eckert, had recently become aware of the relationship between Damiani and Figueredo, who is a former head of the South American Football Confederation, the statement said.
The committee said it could not give further details on the evidence of the relationship or on why it might be problematic.
Damiani told Reuters in Montevideo on Sunday that he broke off relations with Figueredo when the latter was accused of corruption.
“We (had) worked with Figueredo (but) when the (FIFA) issue came to light we immediately ended a professional link,” he said. “My (law) firm is a firm of 60 people, not just me. ... Until May 2015, Figueredo appeared to be a straight person.”
The committee statement came after media reports said that possible links between the two had been revealed by documents among the so-called Panama Papers, a huge leak of data by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that were based on files from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca.
Eckert had informed the committee’s chief investigator Cornel Borbely who “has immediately opened a preliminary investigation to review the allegations in question,” the statement said.
“Dr Borbely is currently looking into said allegations in order to determine if there is a breach against the FIFA Code of Ethics and decide any further measures.”
FIFA is trying to rebuild itself after an unprecedented crisis which has seen several dozen soccer officials, many of them former FIFA officials, indicted in the United States.
The ethics committee itself has investigated and banned a number of leading officials for unethical conduct, including former FIFA President Sepp Blatter and European soccer boss Michel Platini.
The committee has had more teeth since it was split into two chambers, one to investigate cases and another to judge them, in 2012.
Damiani, president of Penarol, one of Uruguay’s two most popular teams alongside Montevideo rivals Nacional, has been on the committee since it was originally set up in 2006. He is now a member of the judgment chamber.
Figueredo, 83, was one of the seven officials arrested in Zurich in May in the incident which put the FIFA crisis in the spotlight.
He was extradited to Uruguay in December and faces charges of money laundering and taking kickbacks to sell media and marketing rights for football tournaments and matches across the Americas.
Uruguayan prosecutors said in February that Figueredo had agreed to hand over more than $10 million in stocks and property in a deal to reduce his punishment.
Additional reporting by Matias Larramendi in Montevideo; Editing by Andrew Roche and Jonathan Oatis