BBC defends Panorama investigation into Fifa 'bribes'

Fifa executives Ricardo Teixeira (l), Issa Hayatou and Nicolas Leoz (r)
Image caption Fifa executives Ricardo Teixeira, Issa Hayatou and Nicolas Leoz

The BBC has defended a documentary which alleges three Fifa officials took bribes in the 1990s.

Nicolas Leoz, Issa Hayatou and Ricardo Teixeira took the money from a sport marketing firm awarded lucrative World Cup rights, Panorama alleges.

The BBC investigation was shown three days before a vote to decide the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

BBC executive editor Clive Edwards said it was Panorama's job "to investigate corruption and wrongdoing".

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has asked the BBC to hand over any evidence it has relating to the claims made against Mr Hayatou, who is a long-standing member of the IOC.

The alleged bribes are included in a confidential document listing 175 payments totalling about $100m (£64m).

The three men did not respond to Panorama over the allegations.

Fifa, world football's governing body, also declined interview requests to address the allegations.

However, in a statement issued on Tuesday, it said the case was "definitely closed" as allegations had already been investigated in Switzerland, with no Fifa officials being convicted.

In its programme broadcast on Monday, Panorama reported on evidence a fourth senior Fifa executive - vice-president Jack Warner - continues to be involved in the resale of World Cup tickets to touts.

The BBC stood by its decision to air the allegations ahead of Thursday's vote in Zurich.

Clive Edwards told Radio 4's Today programme that Panorama had received a list showing the alleged payment of bribes in October, and had spent the intervening time checking the claims and putting them to those named.

Mr Edwards added Panorama presented its evidence to Fifa on 10 November.

"Some people have said that it would have been better to do it after the vote but it is surely nonsense to suggest that you know a process could be flawed and you don't say anything until after it has happened," Mr Edwards said.

"I am not prepared to sit on information we have. I believe that it is in everyone's interest that there should be a fair process and that corruption should be exposed."

British press

The BBC has been criticised by the English FA, which is competing with Russia, Spain/Portugal and Netherlands/Belgium to host the 2018 tournament.

A statement from the FA described the investigation as an "embarrassment to the BBC".

"We stand by our previous position that the BBC's Panorama did nothing more than rake over a series of historical allegations none of which are relevant to the current bidding process.

"The 2018 team are entirely focused on winning the bid for England."

But Michel Platini, president of football's European governing body Uefa, said the Panorama programme should not affect England's bid to hold the World Cup.

Speaking to reporters after the documentary aired, he said: "I don't think this programme will have an effect, no - but I think what may affect the decision is the atmosphere going back a long time and what people have been writing about Fifa in the British press for many years."

The alleged bribes to the three members of Fifa's executive committee were paid by sports marketing company International Sport and Leisure (ISL) and date from 1989 to 1999, Panorama reports. The company collapsed in 2001.

Fifa granted ISL exclusive rights to market World Cup tournaments to some of the world's biggest brands and ISL received millions more from negotiating television broadcast rights.

Some details of the alleged bribes emerged in 2008, when six ISL managers were accused of misusing company money. Bribery was not a criminal offence in Switzerland at the time the money was allegedly paid out.

Closely linked

One Fifa official - Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay, the head of South America's football confederation - was named in court papers in connection with payments totalling $130,000 (£83,000).

But Panorama has obtained a confidential ISL document which lists 175 secret payments. It shows Mr Leoz was paid a further $600,000 (£384,000 using current conversions) in three instalments of $200,000.

The second Fifa official named by the programme, Ricardo Teixeira, is head of the Brazilian Football Confederation which is responsible for staging the 2014 World Cup.

The ISL list shows a front company in Liechtenstein called Sanud received 21 payments totalling $9.5m (£6m).

Mr Teixeira was closely linked to Sanud by an inquiry of the Brazilian senate in 2001. It found that funds from Sanud had been secretly channelled to Mr Teixeira through one of his companies.

The list obtained by Panorama also includes details of 100,000 French francs (£12,900) paid to Issa Hayatou, the Fifa vice-president representing football in African nations.

Fifa president Sepp Blatter said in a statement that the 2008 court case had largely exonerated the former ISL officials.

He said: "It is important to stress that no Fifa officials were accused of any criminal offence in these proceedings."

The recipients of most of the money paid by ISL into accounts in Liechtenstein cannot be traced.

These latest allegations of wrongdoing by Fifa executive members come after two of the 24 committee members were banned last month from voting in Thursday's ballot.

The bans came after the London-based Sunday Times accused Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii of being willing to sell their World Cup votes.

Family business

Image caption Jack Warner told reporters he had "no interest" in Panorama's allegations

The fourth Fifa executive named in the Panorama programme is Trinidad and Tobago's Jack Warner, one of the organisation's vice-presidents.

Panorama says it has seen e-mails and an invoice which show Mr Warner was involved in the procurement of $84,000 worth of 2010 World Cup tickets.

The e-mail trail suggests the tickets were destined for the black market but the planned deal - including 38 tickets for the final in Johannesburg - collapsed because the touts were not prepared to pay the asking price.

In 2006, Panorama revealed that Mr Warner had sold tickets on the black market for that year's World Cup tournament in Germany.

Fifa subsequently ordered Mr Warner's family business, Simpaul Travel, to make a $1m donation to charity to "compensate for the profits it had made through resale of 2006 Fifa World Cup tickets".

Asked to respond to Panorama's allegations by the Press Association news agency, Mr Warner said he had "no interest in this matter... now or ever".

Panorama: Fifa's Dirty Secrets was broadcast on BBC One on Monday, 29 November and is now available in the UK on the BBC iPlayer.

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