17 Jun 2015

World Cup corruption probe ‘will take longer than 90 minutes’

Ninety minutes:  how long it usually takes for football to declare a winner.  This morning the Swiss attorney general outlined a different kind of timeline.  The criminal probe into alleged corruption around the 2018 and 2022 Fifa World Cups.


It will take, said AG Michael Lauber, as long as it takes: “The world of football needs to be patient. By its nature, this investigation will take more than the legendary 90 minutes.”

But how long?  For the 2018 World Cup is – in practical terms – now not much more than an international tournament away.

Lauber told a press briefing this morning that nothing is off the table.  He’ll interview Fifa’s top officials – Sepp Blatter not excluded – and is prepared to cause what he called “collateral” damage to the winning bidders.  In other words, if corruption is indeed proven, the vote could be nullified.  So where would that leave Russia and Qatar?

On Sunday 7 June the head of Fifa’s independent audit and compliance unit Domenico Scala outlined his position: “Should evidence be present that the awarding to Qatar and Russia only came about with bought votes, then the awarding could be void.”

But Fifa appear to have a different view, in a statement last Tuesday saying: “Russia and Qatar were awarded the 2018 and 2022 Fifa World Cups by democratic vote of the executive committee. Based on expert opinions and available facts, Fifa has no legal grounds to take away the hosting of the Fifa World Cup from Russia and Qatar.”

Available facts. Hmnnn. The big picture – arrests, indictments and a host of evidence via plea bargains from a US led investigation into historic racketeering.  And now this separate Swiss criminal investigation, into how Russia and Qatar delivered the votes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups respectively.

An investigation which could take years.  They will have to sift nine terabytes of data, we learned this morning. In lay terms, that’s almost as much as the entire collection of printed works in the US Library of Congress.  Data the Swiss AG says includes 53 possible money laundering incidents, that were flagged by Switzerland’s Financial Intelligence Unit, an anti-money laundering agency.  They’re looking at 104 suspicious banking relations.  And every banking relation represents several individual accounts.

But the expert opinion that Fifa speaks of?  Well “opinion” here is the key.  Or to be precise – expert legal opinion.

Russia and Qatar have contracts with Fifa.  No one outside their magic circle knows the precise details therein.  But if they are stripped of their World Cup wins, they will no doubt seek redress.

Why?  Because between them they are spending billions on building infrastructure – in Qatar’s case constructing an entire city from the desert.  Their course of redress – the Court for Arbitration of Sport in Lausanne.

Be assured, Swiss AG Lauber said today, they will “give priority to this case”.  But peering into the long grass – this “game” has barely got going.

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