ZURICH/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Global soccer body FIFA has applied to U.S. authorities for tens of millions of dollars in damages from ex-officials indicted there for graft and recognized for the first time executives had in the past “sold” votes in World Cup hosting contests.
Gianni Infantino, recently elected president to clear out the worst corruption scandal in FIFA history, said the money had been meant for playing fields and kit, not officials’ mansions and cars and he would get it back “no matter how long it takes”.
The Swiss-based body said it had filed a restitution request on Tuesday with federal prosecutors in New York.
In the document and an accompanying letter, it demanded return of salaries and payment of compensation for damage to its brand, business interests and reputation.
“The defendants...deeply tarnished the FIFA brand and impaired FIFA’s ability to use its resources for positive actions throughout the world,” the document said.
The very future of FIFA has been put in question by the graft scandal, with some demanding its abolition. The move for recompense casts FIFA for the first time, under its new president, prominently as plaintiff and victim.
The FIFA document listed cases of alleged wrongdoing, including the race to host the 2010 World Cup, won by South Africa, already detailed by U.S. authorities in December.
It said former executive committee members Jack Warner, who has been banned for life but denies wrongdoing, Chuck Blazer, who has pleaded guilty to racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering, along with other individuals engineered a $10 million payoff in exchange for executive committee votes.
Warner, fighting extradition from Trinidad and Tobago, had accepted a bribe to vote for Morocco in the 1998 World Cup hosting race, won by France, the report said.
“It is now apparent that multiple members of FIFA’s Executive Committee abused their positions and sold their votes on multiple occasions,” the report said.
However, it did not mention the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments awarded to Russia and Qatar, a decision which has triggered a criminal investigation by Swiss authorities.
Ex-officials who have pleaded guilty have already agreed to pay more than $190 million in forfeiture, according to U.S. authorities.
FIFA president Infantino said in a statement:
“These dollars were meant to build football fields, not mansions and pools; to buy football kits, not jewelry and cars; and to fund youth player and coach development, not to underwrite lavish lifestyles for football and sports marketing executives.”
FIFA is also asking U.S. officials for an audit of the assets of Jeffrey Webb, a former president of CONCACAF, which governs soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean.
FIFA lawyers wrote in a letter to U.S. prosecutors that Webb was living an “extravagant lifestyle” that included an expensive, casino-themed birthday party for his wife since his release on bond.
A lawyer for Webb declined to comment on the party, subject of a Cayman news report last month. Webb, who has pleaded guilty to offences linked to fraud, racketeering and money laundering, is from the Cayman Islands.
In all, 42 sports officials, executives and corporate entities have been charged in the United States under U.S. bribery and money laundering laws.
Reporting by Brian Homewood in Zurich and David Ingram in New York; editing by Ralph Boulton