News 5th April 2016

FIFA Ethics Committee member under investigation

FIFA is investigating links between Juan Pedro Damiani, a member of the Adjudicatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee and Eugenio Figueredo, a former FIFA Vice President tried on corruption charges in Uruguay in December 2015. The ‘Panama Papers’, a cache of 11.5 million documents leaked from the database of law firm Mossack Fonseca and analysed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), are understood to reveal that Damiani (pictured) and his law firm, J.P. Damiani & Associates, did work for at least seven offshore companies linked to Figueredo.

Figueredo was arrested on May 27 last year by Swiss police on an extradition application from the United States. Uruguay then also sought his extradition and the Swiss ruled that Figueredo’s home authorities had precedence because their legal investigation had been launched earlier. In December last year, he told prosecutors that all ten Presidents of the South American football associations took at least US$20,000 a month – and in many cases more – in return for signing off on ‘appropriate’ marketing and TV contracts.

‘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’, read an emailed Ethics Committee statement. The ICIJ reports that Damiani informed the Adjudicatory Chamber of his links to Figueredo on 18 March, one day after it sent ‘detailed questions’ to him about  J.P. Damiani & Associates’ work for companies linked to Figueredo.

‘After receiving the information Dr. Cornel Borbély, chairman of the investigatory chamber of the Ethics Committee, has immediately opened a preliminary investigation to review the allegations in question’, continued the statement. ‘Dr. Borbély 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’.

CONMEBOLFINAL

The ‘Panama Papers’ are also understood to reveal:

• Three officials indicted through the United States Department of Justice (DoJ) investigation into corruption in football have had dealings with J.P. Damiani & Associates.
Links between J.P. Damiani & Associates and Cross Trading, an offshore subsidiary of Full Play S.A., owned by Hugo and Mariano Jinkis. The DoJ’s 20 March 2015 indictment accuses the Jinkis of setting up a joint company called Datisa, which it alleges paid bribes in order to secure football TV contracts in Latin America.
• That four of the 16 FIFA officials indicted in the US utilised offshore companies created through Mossack Fonseca.
• That Lionel Messi transferred responsibility for Mega Star Enterprises, an offshore company he owned, to Mossack Fonseca a day after Spanish authorities filed tax avoidance charges against the FC Barcelona player. The tax avoidance charges, which Messi has made a €5 million contribution to cover, do not mention Mega Star Enterprises. They will be heard in a Barcelona court from 31 May to 3 June.
• Former FIFA Executive Committee member Michel Platini set up Balney Enterprises in Panama in 2007, which was still in active business in March 2016.
• Former FIFA General Secretary, Jérôme Valcke, set up Umbelina SA in the British Virgin Islands in July 2013. It is understood that the company was used to purchase a yacht registered in the Cayman Islands.
• How Spanish club Real Sociedad used various offshore companies to facilitate payment of its foreign players.
• Almost 20 footballers set up offshore companies through Mossack Fonseca.
• More than 20 football club owners set up offshore companies through Mossack Fonseca.
• Eleven retired National Hockey League (NHL) players set up offshore companies through Mossack Fonseca.
• Golfer Nick Faldo owned an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands from 2006 until 2008. Faldo is one of at least five golfers whose names appear in the documents.
• Details of broadcast agreements that were signed between Latin American football confederation (CONMEBOL) officials and companies which the DoJ allege paid bribes in order to secure TV contracts.

The ‘Panama Papers’ merely show how those with wealth can exploit offshore tax regimes in order to pay less tax. There is no suggestion that any of those named above have done anything illegal. Likewise, there is no suggestion that Damiani, his legal firm or Mossack Fonseca have done anything improper or illegal.

Mossack Fonseca pointed out that incorporating companies is a ‘normal activity’ carried out by law firms. ‘We are legally and practically limited in our ability to regulate the use of companies we incorporate or to which we provide other services’, read a statement. ‘We are not involved in managing our clients’ companies. Excluding the professional fees we earn, we do not take possession or custody of clients’ money, or have anything to do with any of the direct financial aspects related to operating their businesses.’

Damiani, who is President of Club Atlético Peñarol, played down accusations that his law firm’s dealings with defendants whom have been subject to FIFA Ethics Committee proceedings represented a conflict of interest. “It’s pretty funny to be both complainant and defendant”, he told Keir Radnedge. “Peñarol were the first big club who denounced wrongdoing with [South American confederation] CONMEBOL and even in February 2014 we sent a letter to FIFA demanding in investigate what was going on. When the issue went to court, we also submitted the appropriate report.”

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