Blatter under fire over World Cup TV rights

Blatter under fire over World Cup TV rights

A 2005 FIFA contract obtained by Swiss broadcaster SRF indicates that FIFA President Sepp Blatter allegedly sold TV rights for the 2010 and 2014 World Cup for a fraction of the market price to the Caribbean Football Union and the regional football body’s then-president Jack Warner. 

It is the first evidence that shows Blatter’s personal involvement in TV rights deals and the extent of the profits made by disgraced former CONCACAF boss Warner from FIFA contracts, SRF reported on Friday. 

FIFA sold the TV rights for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa to the Caribbean Football Union for $250,000. The CFU received the TV rights for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil for $350,000, the documents show. The deal was signed by Sepp Blatter on behalf of FIFA and Warner, as president of the CFU. 

The rights were later transferred from the Warner-controlled CFU to his Cayman-registered company JD International, which sold them to Jamaica-based broadcaster Sportsmax in 2007 for a reported $15 million to $20 million. 

Former FIFA anti-corruption adviser and criminal law professor Mark Pieth told the Associated Press the contract was “prima facie evidence” of potential embezzlement and that a criminal investigation should be launched. 

So far, Blatter has not been charged with any wrongdoing and he maintains he had no part in recently revealed football corruption schemes involving members of his organization. 

The broadcast rights agreement between Sportsmax and Warner’s JD International included, in addition to the 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cups, the FIFA Men’s U-20 and U-17 tournaments, the FIFA Confederations Cup, the Women’s World Cup and the CONCACAF Gold Cup for the years 2007 to 2014, according to a press statement released at the time by International Media Content Ltd., the parent company of Sportsmax. 

In July, the Cayman Compass reported that JD International, also known as J&D International, was set up in May 1995 by Warner and used to sell the 2002 World Cup TV rights for the Caribbean region for $4.25 million to the Caribbean Football Union. 

JD International also sold the 2006 World Cup rights to Sportsmax for an estimated $8 million, the Trinidad Express reported in 2013. 

It is not clear how much FIFA received for these rights, but former FIFA President Joao Havelange had granted Warner previous media rights to the 1994 and 1998 World Cups for the nominal sum of “one dollar.” 

Cayman Islands Grand Court documents show that former CONCACAF and Cayman Islands Football Association president Jeffrey Webb was a director of J&D International. Both Webb and his CONCACAF predecessor Warner are under indictment in the United States for alleged bribery schemes in relation to football media rights. Warner, who lost his seat as a member of parliament in Trinidad and Tobago in general elections earlier this month, is resisting extradition to the U.S. Webb, who has pleaded not guilty, is under house arrest in his home in Loganville, Georgia. 

J&D International was struck off the Cayman Islands company register in 1997, but it was restored after Webb submitted an affidavit as the company’s director, on Sept. 5, 2005, a week before the FIFA-CFU contract over the 2010 and 2014 World Cup rights was signed by Blatter and Warner. 

At a press conference in Zurich on Monday, Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber said FIFA late Sunday evening had sent prosecutors “its explanation” for the media rights contract with the Caribbean Football Union, which is still being reviewed. 

In 2011, following Warner’s resignation from all football activities amid bribery allegations, FIFA stripped the 2014 World Cup TV rights from JD International and canceled a deal with the original media rights licensee, CFU. 

The U.K.’s Guardian newspaper reported on Saturday that FIFA issued a statement in response to the Swiss report, stating that under the terms of the media rights agreement with the CFU, football’s world governing body was to be paid a fixed licensing fee as well as a 50 percent share of any profits related to the subcontracting of these rights. 

FIFA said it terminated its contract with the CFU on July 25, 2011, after the CFU failed to meet its financial obligations and breached the contract in other ways, for example by not obtaining pre-approval for sublicensing. 

United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced at the joint press conference with her Swiss counterpart on Monday that she expects a widening of the U.S. football corruption probe. 

It was her first news conference since announcing a 47-count indictment for alleged money laundering and racketeering at various regional football associations, which followed the arrest of senior football officials in a dawn raid in Zurich shortly before the annual FIFA Congress at the end of May. Webb was arrested in that sweep. 

“Our investigation remains active and ongoing and has expanded since May. The scope is not limited. We do anticipate pursuing additional charges against individuals and entities,” she said. 

The Swiss attorney general’s office, which is conducting a separate investigation in relation to the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, said it is examining 11 terabytes of data seized from FIFA, as well as transactions involving 121 bank accounts. 

Swiss authorities have also seized financial assets and a number of properties in the Swiss Alps on suspicion of money laundering. 

The rights were later transferred from the Warner-controlled CFU to his Cayman-registered company JD International, which sold them to Jamaica-based broadcaster Sportsmax in 2007 for a reported $15 million to $20 million. 

For the Cayman Compass’s full FIFA coverage, visit the Compass Data Desk.

Michael Lauber, attorney general of Switzerland, and Loretta Lynch, attorney general of the United States, speak at a news conference Monday in Zurich, Switzerland, on football-related investigations.

Michael Lauber, attorney general of Switzerland, and Loretta Lynch, attorney general of the United States, speak at a news conference Monday in Zurich, Switzerland, on football-related investigations. – PHOTO: AP
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