26th September 2018

Incredible tale of the downfall of Jérôme Valcke…as revealed by sport’s supreme court

The bosses’ arrogance which had once poisoned FIFA – and maybe other sports governing bodies – is laid bare in a single sentence quoted by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in the case of Jérôme Valcke. The 57-year-old Frenchman, world football’s number two as FIFA Secretary General from 2007 until 2016, is serving a 10-year suspension from the game which was upheld by the Lausanne-based CAS last July.

The CAS has now published its 76-page written judgment – including accusations and rebuttals – on a remarkable catalogue of double-standards, disloyalty and conflict of interest. Notably it picks out Valcke’s casual observation in evidence that ‘there is the real world and there was the FIFA world’.

CAS, in a damning reflection on FIFA practice, stated: ‘This assertion had particular resonance in the context of the extravagant travel expenses often incurred by high ranking FIFA officials during the so-called “Blatter era”, which were unbecoming for an international governing body whose funds should more properly be spent to promote the sport which it governs’. That indictment has been born out by the self-serving cascade of greed revealed in the multi-million-dollar FIFAGate case, the $2m ‘disloyal payment’ authorised by former FIFA president Sepp Blatter to Michel Platini as well as World Cup tickets and TV rights rip-offs.

Six key issues

The CAS judgment on Valcke’s appeal against his ban concerns six major issues. The first, and which led directly on to Valcke’s suspension and subsequent sacking,  concerned his negotiations with businessman Benny Alon of JB Sports Marketing over the sale of World Cup tickets in 2006, 2010 and 2014.

Valcke used his private email address for some of the correspondence. He denied JB’s claims that he had negotiated a $500,000 kickback. However the CAS was ‘convinced to its comfortable satisfaction’ that Valcke helped Alon and JB ‘gain an advantage and thus had private and personal interests involved in the matter’.

It found that he had also ‘gained a personal advantage by accepting from JB a 50pc kickback on the profit that JB would make on the tickets from the 12 games of the 2014 FIFA World Cup as reallocated by [Valcke]. While [Valcke] admits receiving and never expressly rejecting such an offer, [he] denies that he ever went so far as to accept it; however, the panel considers there is compelling evidence that he did.’

Nanny state . . .

A second issue concerned Valcke’s travel expenses between 2010 and 2015. These included four trips by private jet ‘for which there were no security or cost-saving reason and on which he was accompanied by family members at the expense of FIFA’. The four trips were to:

• St Petersburg in 2015 for the World Cup preliminary draw (with his wife, daughter, two sons and the children’s nanny);
• India and the Taj Mahal in September 2012 (with his wife and one son);
• Doha in September 2013 (to meet the Emir of Qatar); and
• London to Manchester in July 2012 (with his son Sebastien).

Those trips alone cost an overspend of $234,034 which was never repaid or deducted from Valcke’s salary. Yet already, in October 2013, then director of finance Markus Kattner had cautioned Valcke for spending $11.7m on private jets between January 2011 and September 2013 and warned that he should find ‘more cost efficient alternatives whenever possible’. CAS found that Valcke ‘breached FIFA’s travel regulations in four trips by using a private jet without an admissible business rationale, having multiple persons accompany him and not integrally reimbursing FIFA for the additional costs incurred’.

A third issue concerned a conflict of interest over FIFA’s negotiations with software developer EON over a project for the Rio de Janeiro Fan Fest at the 2014 World Cup. The deal was ultimately signed off by Thierry Weil, then the FIFA Director of Marketing, but only after Valcke had advised his son Sebastien, privately, on the terms of a personal appointment with EON.

Correspondence between father and son indicated that Sebastien had been employed by EON after he demanded ‘that if EON wished to move the deal forward, EON would have to agree to his requested commission payment’. CAS ruled that Valcke had failed to avoid a conflict of interest in relation to the FIFA-EON deal.

Next came a fourth issue which focused on a proposal in 2011 from Valcke to ‘gift’ to Jack Warner, the then President of the Caribbean Football Union and a FIFA vice-president, media rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups for $1m. The offer was made to Warner even though another bid of $4m was on the table.

The CAS stated: ‘At the time Mr Valcke sent this email, a FIFA presidential election was coming up on 1 June 2011. It was widely expected that Mr Mohamed Bin Hammam would run in that election and challenge the incumbent FIFA President, Mr Blatter. As Mr Valcke testified before the CAS, he recognized that this meant potentially losing his position as FIFA secretary-general.’

Jack Warner’s role

CAS found Valcke had offered ‘an undue benefit’ to Warner over World Cup TV rights at a time when the Trinidadian ‘would have a significant influence [in the upcoming presidential election]’. In fact, Warner quit all football positions later in 2011 and FIFA awarded the relevant 2018 and 2022 World Cup media rights to another company for $20m.

Issue five concerned Valke’s destruction of evidence in defiance of repeated warnings in 2015 from the law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. An internal letter in connection with the Swiss and United States investigations into FIFA corruption, cautioned that ‘all employees had to preserve all information and documents stored in any form from 1 January 2002 and to refrain from amending, destroying or in any way altering any relevant document’.

Valcke did not respond to repeated requests for acknowledgment. In December 2015, a forensic expert reported that the ‘jva1240’ – apparently Valcke – ‘had deleted a total of 1,034 files or folders (consisting of Word and Pdf docs, Excel spreadsheets and email messages) between 24 September and 11 October 2015 (the day before handing over his work laptop to FIFA)’.

Deleted files

Valcke told the CAS that almost all the deleted files had been private documents, but the panel ruled that he had ‘destroyed evidence in contravention of the document preservation notice’. The sixth and final substantive issue concerned a request in early September 2015 from FIFA’s Ethics Committee that Valcke should make himself available for interview. Instead Valcke and his lawyers stalled over the advance provision of documentation and perceived liability relating to ongoing judicial inquiries. The CAS ruled, however, that co-operation with the ethics committee would not have compromised Valcke’s rights under Swiss law.

In October 2015, the Ethics Committee provisionally banned Valcke for 90 days. This was extended until January 2016 when Valcke was sacked by FIFA. The following month he was banned from football for 12 years and fined CHF100,000 (€89,000) for conduct breaches including loyalty, confidentiality, duty of disclosure, conflicts of interest, the offering and accepting of gifts as well as an obligation to collaborate.

FIFA’s own Appeal Committee cut the ban to 10 years, in acknowledgment of Valcke’s service to the game. This was not sufficient for Valcke. Hence the further appeal to the CAS. But sport’s supreme court, after deliberating on the whole sorry business, concluded that ‘a 10-year ban is wholly appropriate’.

• The full Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) judgment is available here: http://www.tas-cas.org/fileadmin/user_upload/Award_5003_Final.pdf. This article originally appeared on Keir Radnedge’s internet site on 25 September 2018. Click here for the original.

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