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October 2020
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New security systems hints at threat to serious journalism after Man C case

By Tony Attwood

“The attempt to damage the club’s reputation is organized and clear.”

With that one simple statement from Manchester City, the world of football changed, as did the world of football journalism.  The ramifications for the club, Uefa, and for independent journalism are still reverberating.   And they might well reverberate even more when CAS hands down its verdict on the Uefa finding that the Club Financial Control Body found Manchester City to be in breach of FFP.

But what we now know is that during the investigation in 2014, which was said to be “independent”, Manchester City’s chief executive Ferran Soriano discussed the case in a secret meeting with Gianni Infantino, then Uefa general secretary who is now himself under investigation as head of Fifa along with the deposed Swiss federal prosecutor, for a series of secret meetings they have had.

Der Spiegel released the transcript of a conversation between Soriano and  Khaldoon Al Mubarak, chairman of Manchester City, which says, “I had a good telephone call with Gianni Infantino where we agreed how to brief the lawyers (‘to negotiate a settlement that is more than a warning and can be seen as effective/dissuasive but does not affect dramatically MCFC business’).”

Infantino, now of course is in much bigger trouble over his handling of the Fifa corruption, but in an earlier interview with The Associated Press he said,

“My job entails having discussions, having conversations, exchanging documents, drafts, ideas, whatever, on many, many, many, many, topics. Otherwise you don’t go anywhere.  I mean, if I just have to stay in my room and not speak to anyone and cannot do anything, how can I do my job properly? So if, then, this is being portrayed as something bad, there’s not much I can do more than my job in an honest way, in a professional way and trying to defend the interests of football.”

However the Swiss case, which still, extraordinarily is unreported by the British media, centres on the fact that Infantino and the prosecutor had secret meetings at which no one else was present.  That case continues.

Meanwhile in the first Manchester City the club reached an agreement with Uefa that the club would not be banned but would have a 60 million euros fine, plus a player limitation.

However it was after that, that Uefa’s auditors began to realise that sponsorship deals which had previously been taken at face value needed further investigation.  And as a result of that Manchester City lawyer Simon Cliff said he recalled a conversation between Al Mubarak and Infantino, in which “Khaldoon said he would rather spend 30 million on the 50 best lawyers in the world to sue them for the next 10 years,” to avoid submission to the Uefa rules.

Later Cliff said in a note also published by Der Spiegel, “Uefa doesn’t respond to anything other than aggression” and noted that a lawsuit against auditor PriceWaterhouseCoopers “could destroy the entire organization within weeks.   If PWC was under threat, you could then imagine them suing Uefa for damages and, if they collapsed, all their creditors suing Uefa too.”

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Manchester City did sign the settlement agreement on the day Uefa’s lead investigator passed away.  On hearing the news Cliff said, “One down, six to go.”

This aggressive stance by Manchester City had never been seen before from any club charged with a breach of the rules and it gave investigative journalists a problem.  With a protagonist this powerful and so determined to win that it was willing to threaten or malign the entire legal system under which it was bound to act, and those involved, it was likely to threaten journalists too.

It has been suggested that this aggressive response has caused CIS and Uefa to consider their position, as they clearly now live in a world in a club under Uefa authority may not be willing to accept the ruling of the highest courts in football.  Also journalists have noted that they too may well need protection from this sort of aggressive rhetoric should the actions suggested ever be put into effect.

Now, at the request of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a new type of decentralized search engine and secure messaging system has been developed which can guarantee an exchange of information between journalists and their publishers, without risk of leakage to a protagonist in a case under investigation.

The ICIJ has members in 70 countries, some of whom were involved in the discovery of the “Panama Papers”, which in over 11 million documents covering around a quarter of a million offshore firms in April 2016.  These revealed that many companies were used for illegal purposes such as fraud, tax evasion and avoiding international sanctions.

Where such sensitive files are investigated a leak could jeopardize both eventual publication and the safety of journalists and their sources.

The new approach provides extra anonymity and security both during research and the exchange of information, which is essential in the light of the threats might upon the release of papers relating to the Manchester City case.

This also allows journalists to search efficiently in numerous databases without increasing the risk of leaks.

The result of the CAS hearing into Manchester City’s appeal is expected in the next 10 days.  Most CAS cases seem to end with the penalty being cut in half, which would result in Manchester City being banned from the 2020/21 Champions League.  If the club then made good on its promise to bring down Uefa, that process of multiple legal cases would presumably start at some point thereafter with the filing of cases against Uefa in each of the 55 countries that are within Uefa.

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