Football: Fifa's 2010 and 2014 World Cup rights deals subject of Swiss probe

ZURICH • The Swiss attorney- general's office will investigate a contract for media rights to the 2010 and 2014 football World Cups, two Swiss law enforcement officials said over the weekend.

The inquiry follows a television news report asserting that football's world governing body Fifa sold the rights for rates far below market value to a Caribbean football organisation, whose leader then resold them for much more.

The interest by Swiss prosecutors, who are already investigating how Fifa awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting rights to Russia and Qatar, expands the scrutiny facing Fifa and its president Sepp Blatter along with Jack Warner, former head of the Caribbean football federation.

Warner is under indictment in the United States for an alleged bribery scheme relating to other football media rights in the Americas. Blatter faces no charges. Both men have denied any wrongdoing.

The latest inquiry involves a 2005 contract to televise the 2010 and 2014 World Cups in parts of the Caribbean.

Swiss broadcaster SRF reported on Friday that Fifa signed over the media rights to the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) for US$600,000, (S$844,000 at current exchange rates) but that Warner, head of the CFU at the time, then transferred the rights to his own company and resold them in a deal worth between US$15 million and US$20 million.

SRF posted excerpts of the contract on its website showing that Blatter and Warner signed it themselves.

A US lawyer for Warner declined to comment, as did the CFU.

An attorney for Blatter referred to a statement issued by Fifa on Saturday in which the organisation said the agreement with the Caribbean group promised Fifa much more than the up-front fee, and that Fifa was to receive half of any profits related to subcontracting the rights.

If Fifa was due to receive substantially more than the up-front payment, that could undercut any argument that the fee paid was substantially below market value.

Fifa also said it terminated the contract in 2011 after the CFU failed to meet its financial obligations or follow subcontracting requirements.

It remained unclear how much Warner might have made from the deal or whether the CFU breached the contract as alleged by Fifa.

Warner, who left organised football in 2011, has said in the past that he had evidence that he was gifted World Cup television rights in his region a number of times, including for the 2010 and 2014 events, in return for securing votes for Blatter's election campaigns for the Fifa presidency.

He said the money made from media rights was used "to develop Caribbean football".

Fifa has dismissed Warner's claims as false and said that television rights had nothing do with Blatter's election campaigns.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2015, with the headline 'Fifa's Cup rights deal subject of Swiss probe'. Print Edition | Subscribe