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Panorama: Fifa's Dirty Secrets

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Tom Giles | 18:19 UK time, Monday, 29 November 2010

There's been a lot of noisy speculation over the last few weeks - none of it generated by the BBC and much of it uninformed - about tonight's Panorama investigation into Fifa.

All I would urge is that people watch the programme and make up their own minds.

I am confident that once they see the evidence unearthed by our reporter, Andrew Jennings, most fair-minded viewers will agree that we are raising issues which are highly pertinent to this week's bidding process and important in revealing the way Fifa conducts itself.

Panorama is not in the habit of raking over old coals for the sake of it; nor are we intent on undermining England's bid for the 2018 World Cup.

I am a football fan - and have been a club season-ticket holder and member for a long time. One of my sons played at junior level for a Championship club. So I'm well aware of how much winning the right to hold the World Cup means to people. I share everyone's passion for seeing the tournament played here.

But if some of the people who are making the final decision are corrupt - if there is a suggestion that they can be bought - how fair can the process be? Given the long period over which this corruption took place and given that the men involved are all still in place, isn't it time that Fifa is properly held to account and its processes made transparent?

Our investigation identifies three Fifa executives who took bribes as part of a wider corruption scandal involving around $100 million of secret payments. We accuse a fourth Fifa boss of continued involvement in the corrupt sale of World Cup tickets.

All four are members of Fifa's executive committee and will be voting on England's 2018 World Cup bid this Thursday.

None of the men has responded to letters from Panorama setting out our allegations.

The three who took bribes received the secret payments from a now defunct sports marketing company called International Sports and Leisure (ISL). For many years it held exclusive World Cup marketing rights - secured in part by bribing sports officials around the world.

Panorama has obtained a confidential internal ISL document listing 175 secret payments made between 1989 and 1999. We understand that most were bribes paid to a handful of senior Fifa officials.

Together, the $100 million of secret payments amount to one of the biggest recorded bungs in the history of world sport.

None of the bribes relevant to Fifa has ever been formally investigated by the Federation - nor by the Swiss courts.

For these reasons, I have never doubted that it would be in the public interest to broadcast this story.

In terms of its timing, we only obtained the list of these payments last month after a secret out-of-court settlement was reached in June 2010 year. That followed an investigation into the ISL bribes by a Swiss magistrate and concluded with unnamed Fifa officials paying back £3.5 million.

It has taken many weeks to ensure that the allegations we are making were properly tested and that all those named were given a fair opportunity to respond.

There have also been calls for us to put the programme out after the vote on the bid. I understand why people feel strongly about us not tipping the chances against England's 2018 bid.

But surely it's right for the British public to be informed about the nature of Fifa and its demands before we win - if we do?

As for the corruption itself, it's difficult to imagine any editor of a news organisation ignoring evidence which points to the man who will host the next World Cup - one of the most powerful men in world football - taking bribes.

There are many payments on our list that cannot be traced because they were made to front companies in Liechtenstein. But in the case of one such company, Sanud, there's a clear lead to Ricard Teixera, the head of Brzailian football.

Our list shows Sanud received 21 payments from ISL totaling $9.5 million (£6.1m). We asked Mr Teixeira whether the bribes had also ended up in his pocket, but he didn't respond.

The second Fifa executive committee member identified by the list of secret payments is Issa Hayatou, the head of African football. His name appears next to a cash payment of 100,000 French francs in 1995.

The third Fifa executive on the ISL list is the head of South American football, Nicolas Leoz.
He was named in connection with two ISL payments totalling $130,000 during court proceedings in 2008 - but the list shows three further payments of $200,000 each. So Mr Leoz was paid $730,000 by ISL.

We also accuse a fourth member of Fifa's executive committee, vice-president Jack Warner, of attempting to tout World Cup tickets.

He was previously exposed by Panorama for selling 2006 World Cup tickets on the black market. Fifa subsequently ordered Mr Warner's family business, Simpaul Travel, to make a $1 million donation to charity "to compensate for the profits it had made through the resale of 2006 Fifa World Cup tickets".

Now Panorama has evidence that Mr Warner used his position to try to help touts obtain tickets for the 2010 World Cup. He ordered tickets costing $84,240 from the Fifa ticket office but the deal subsequently fell through.

This is money that was effectively stolen from football, as it could have been used to fund Fifa's development projects around the world.

This time it could be different though, as Swiss politicians are threatening to take action if Fifa kicks these allegations into the long grass.

The key question now is what, if anything, Fifa will do with Panorama's evidence. Sadly, Fifa's track record suggests this is unlikely to be the case.

Fifa president Sepp Blatter declined to comment when we asked him about the three Fifa executives who had taken bribes.

But he said that a Swiss court case had largely exonerated the managers of ISL: "It is important to stress that no Fifa officials were accused of any criminal offence in these proceedings."

The court case followed an investigation by the Swiss authorities into the collapse of ISL in 2001. Six ISL managers were tried in 2008 for misusing company money. But they were not tried for commercial bribery because that was not an offence in Switzerland at the time.

What Mr Blatter failed to mention, however, is that Fifa officials were the subject of a second criminal investigation by a Swiss magistrate.

He completed his investigation into the ISL affair this June and concluded that Fifa executives had taken kickbacks on marketing contracts. But their names were kept secret as part of an out-of-court settlement which saw them pay back £3.5 million.

David Cameron is joining Prince William and David Beckham in Zurich as the bid process reaches its conclusion this week.

I wish them the very best of luck and if England are successful I hope we will lay on a World Cup tournament that will make us the envy of the world.

And whatever the outcome on Thursday, I firmly believe that we were right to shine a spotlight into the murky corners of Fifa's multi-billion dollar empire.

Tom Giles is the editor of Panorama. Due to legal sensitivities, comments are closed on this post.

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