By Tony Attwood
Over the past couple of days I’ve been working on an article about Leicester City and whether there is any link between the club and suspected match fixing. And then bang – out of the blue comes another set of scandalous financial revelations, and wouldn’t you know it, football seems implicated once again.
Part of the Leicester article (still not completed because of the news that broke yesterday) is that when Milan Mandaric was chair of Leicester he was charged in relation to tax matters. And Mirror Sport also reported last year that Gary Linekar took part in a tax avoidance scheme.
But this is a tangled web and I certainly don’t have independent evidence on either case – I can only report what is said elsewhere. So with the arrival of the Panama Papers, I’m putting the article about possible match fixing on hold for a little while and instead looking at the latest scandal.
First off I was attracted to the emerging story of the release of millions of papers about offshore tax avoidance by the fact that the British Prime Minister’s father is cited in the Panama Papers (which doesn’t mean he’s done anything wrong, rather that he might be using off shore companies to avoid UK tax legitimately, although it doesn’t reflect well on his son). But moving on it all starts to get more interesting, because once again football is so very much implicated.
In fact one might say, if there are pigs in the trough then there will be football people putting their snouts in.
Overall the Panama Papers released overnight show how large numbers of national leaders and people associated with them (from the friends of Putin to the President of Iceland’s wife) have used secretive offshore companies to hold the money they have “acquired”. In football’s case it seems to be often related to the selling of players’ image rights to advertisers.
As you will know if you have been paying attention Lionel Messi and his father are already accused of tax fraud on a massive scale. Now El Confidencial has suggested that Messi is linked to firms noted in the Panama Papers. Messi has announced he will sue, and if he does he could do ok in court, given the practice he is getting.
The Madrid paper is said to show the signature of Messi in acquiring an offshore company one day after being indicted over a separate tax case. Offshore companies are not illegal, but they are on occasion used to hide wealth both from journalists and from tax officials. And what makes the allegation interesting (if true) is that the case of Messi’s alleged Mega Star Enterprises , is not mentioned in the 2014 and 2015 indictments against Messi.
Elsewhere, as we might expect Fifa and Uefa are of course implicated. (You wouldn’t believe me if I told you they were not).
Michel Platini used Mossack Fonseca (the firm whose documents are leaked in the Panama Papers) to administer a company created in Panama in 2007 when he was named president of Uefa.
Also there is news of dealings involving Juan Pedro Damiani, a member of Fifa’s Independent Ethics Committee.
Damiani is said to be one of Uruguay’s richest men and the chairman of Montevideo-based club Peñarol, and is shown in the leak to have links to three men named in the Fifa ethics scandal. The finding suggests strongly that Fifa is doing what many of us have suspected – just coming clean on the scandals revealed but doing nothing to dig deeper to find out what else lies beneath the surface while allowing its officials to find new ways of feeding in the trough.
Damiani and his law firm apparently worked for at least seven offshore companies all of which were associated with Eugenio Figueredo, a former Fifa vice president who has been charged with money laundering. (And can I pause for a moment and remind you of all the articles Untold published on the connection between money laundering and football, and how large numbers of people wrote in to call it a fantasy, and a conspiracy theory? I’d love an apology from them, but I’m not holding my breath.
Damiani has also acted in various ethics cases involving leading football officials over the past four years. He is now in Uruguay.
According to the BBC, a spokesman for Fifa’s ethics investigatory committee told the BBC in a statement: “We confirm that on 19 March the investigatory chamber of the independent ethics committee was informed by the chairman of the adjudicatory chamber, Hans-Joachim Eckert, about becoming recently aware of a business relationship between the member of the adjudicatory chamber Juan Pedro Damiani, and Eugenio Figueredo Aguerre.
“After receiving the information Dr Cornel Borbely, chairman of the investigatory chamber of the ethics committee, has immediately opened a preliminary investigation to review the allegations in question. Dr Borbely is currently looking into said allegations in order to determine if there is a breach against the Fifa code of ethics and decide any further measures.”
Or put another way, “A big hole has opened up and another bunch of Fifa execs have fallen into it.”
Damiani and his firm provided legal assistance for at least seven offshore companies linked to Figueredo, a former Fifa vice-president who was arrested last May in Zurich as part of the US inquiry into football corruption.
In addition the BBC notes that two other executives charged in connection with the US football corruption probe have links to Damiani’s legal and accountancy firm.
The problem with Fifa of course, runs very deep, but these revelations do point out something that many of the everyday journalists miss. And that is that Fifa, Uefa and the rest tend only to answer up to issues that are revealed from without. They don’t go looking within. Instead they assume as a basis that everything is fine within their organisation, until someone turns up in court or is outed in a leak.
The FA does the same, and I really wonder when the British press are going to wake up to this fact that these bodies are not capable of investigating themselves. And the fact that Fifa is the body that the FA and seemingly the British government still supports.
Another person whose name pops up (and remember there are millions of documents here so it is going to take a long time to find everything) is Gabriel Iván Heinze, who while with Manchester United set up the Galena Mills Corp, in the British Virgin Islands (a notorious tax haven).
The Panama Documents were obtained by the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The ICIJ has stated that the documents contain “the names of nearly 20 high-profile footballers, past and present, representing some of the globe’s best-known professional football clubs, including Barcelona, Manchester United and Real Madrid”, as well as “current or former owners of at least 20 major soccer clubs, including Internazionale Milano and Boca Juniors”.
When it comes to journalism and the media, and my regular sniping at both, these are the guys who are excluded from said sniping. These are the good guys.
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From the anniversary files
- 4 April 1913: Spurred on by Tottenham Hotspur’s objections, the Highbury Defence Committee persuaded Islington Council to push through a vote protesting against Arsenal moving to the Gillespie Road ground. Also here
On the home page we have “Insult of the Day”, and the activities of the South Sea Company.
Danny Karbassiyoon’s book “The Arsenal Yankee” with a foreword by Arsene Wenger is now published. You can buy the book…
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