News 6 April 2016

Analysis: Switzerland probes UEFA’s links with Cross Trading

Swiss authorities are probing UEFA’s links with Cross Trading, after UEFA admitted agreeing a contract with an offshore subsidiary of one of the companies behind the setting up of Datisa, a joint company found by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) to have paid bribes in order to secure football TV contracts in Latin America. ‘UEFA can confirm that today we received a visit from the office of the Swiss Federal Police acting under a warrant and requesting sight of the contracts between UEFA and Cross Trading/Teleamazonas’, read a statement e-mailed from UEFA. ‘Naturally, UEFA is providing the Federal Police with all relevant documents in our possession and will cooperate fully’. The contract with Cross Trading, agreed in 2006, was signed by FIFA President Gianni Infantino (pictured), as he was working as UEFA’s Director of Legal Services at the time.

In response to accusations that UEFA had denied involvement with any of the companies named by the DoJ in its two indictments relating to corruption in football, UEFA said that it gave an ‘initially incomplete’ answer. ‘It is correct that UEFA was asked some time ago whether it had any commercial dealings with certain companies and/or individuals named in the US indictment’, read UEFA’s statement. ‘At the time of our initial response we had not had the opportunity to check each and every one of our (thousands) of commercial contracts and so the answer given was initially incomplete. That is the reason why Gianni Infantino initially thought, based on the information provided by UEFA, that there had been no previous UEFA contracts with any companies and/or individuals named in the indictment. That is also why FIFA gave this information to the media. We have now had the opportunity to conduct a full review of our commercial contracts and, as regards this particular TV contract in Ecuador dating back to 2006, it should be pointed out that the rights in question were awarded after an open tender conducted by TEAM Marketing, acting on behalf of UEFA. The rights were awarded to Teleamazonas/Cross Trading because they made the highest offer on the market.’

Cross Trading is 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 with Traffic Group called Datisa, which it alleges paid bribes in order to secure football TV contracts in Latin America.

‘Co-Conspirator #2 and the defendants Alejandro Burzaco, Hugo Jinkis and Mariano Jinkis caused their respective companies to join together and form a new entity known as Datisa’, reads the indictment. ‘Following creation of this entity, Datisa entered into a $317.5 million contract with CONMEBOL to obtain the exclusive worldwide rights to the 2015, 2019, and 2023 editions of the Copa America and the 2016 Copa America Centenario, a tournament to celebrate the 100th anniversary of  the first edition of the Copa America […] In connection with the acquisition of the media rights to the Copa America and Centenario tournaments from CONMEBOL and CONCACAF, Datisa agreed to pay $110 million in bribes to the defendants Jeffrey Webb, Eugenio Figueredo, Rafael Esquivel, José Maria Marin, and Nicolás Leoz, and several other soccer officials. Datisa agreed to make these payments at various times over the life of the contracts. At least $40 million has been paid to date.’

Cross Trading was named in the ‘Panama Papers’, a tranche of 11.5 million documents from law firm Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm specialising in incorporating offshore companies, obtained by the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) with news organisations. The papers reveal that Cross Trading paid UEFA’s marketing partner, TEAM Marketing, US$111,000 for the exclusive rights to screen Champions League football in Ecuador from 2006/7 until 2008/9, reports The Guardian. The newspaper alleges that Ecuadorian broadcaster Teleamazonas paid Cross Trading $311,170 for the rights. MediaPro, the Spanish company which owns Teleamazonas, has yet to release a statement.

‘As I previously stated, I never personally dealt with Cross Trading nor their owners as the tender process was conducted by TEAM Marketing on behalf of UEFA’, read a statement from Infantino, released by FIFA. ‘I would like to state for the record that neither UEFA nor I have ever been contacted by any authorities in relation to these particular contracts. Moreover, as media themselves report, there is no indication whatsoever for any wrongdoings from neither UEFA nor myself in this matter.’

Long tail

The statements from FIFA and UEFA both mention that they are ‘dismayed’ by the articles in the press. ‘UEFA is dismayed by certain stories in the media suggesting that there might have been untoward or improper conduct in connection with a television rights contract concluded with a company based in Ecuador in 2006. For the record, and as repeatedly explained to the media, there was never any suggestion that anything improper took place. These explanations have been conveyed to the media in a clear, reasonable, and perfectly transparent way. It is therefore all the more regrettable that, despite the explanations given, some sections of the media have chosen to misrepresent matters and mislead the public by suggesting or implying otherwise.’

The attempt to connect UEFA and Infantino to companies named in the DoJ does appear, on the face of it, to have a long tail. Cross Trading is an offshore subsidiary of Full Play S.A., which was owned by the Jinkis. The DoJ accused the Jinkis of merging Full Play S.A. with Traffic Group to form Datisa, the company it actually accused of paying bribes to football officials in order to secure TV rights.

UEFA point out that TEAM Marketing negotiated the deal with Cross Trading, which appears, on the face of it, to be a normal rights deal. It is common practice for the Legal Director of sporting bodies to sign off such deals. It is also not unusual for those rights to then be sold on for a higher price. What is unusual is when the President of an international federation agrees to sell the rights to two editions of its flagship tournament for a fraction of their market value, as former FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter appears to have done.

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