Published On: November 28, 2015

FIFA Ethics Committee

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When they checked into their rooms at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in São Paulo, just before Brazil’s 2014 World Cup, global football officials were greeted with leather gift bags from the CBF, Brazil’s football federation. Each bag contained tourism books, a key ring, a Brazil jersey — and, in a small velvet pouch, a wristwatch worth U$26,000 (100 thousand reais).

Some realized that the watch, by the Swiss brand Parmigiani, was more than a trinket and returned it to FIFA. But many officials accepted the watch, enjoying it as a symbol of the wealth enjoyed by football’s leaders from FIFA.

Less than a year later, FIFA was decimated when United States prosecutors unsealed corruption and bribery charges against 10 FIFA officials from nine countries. Among them was the president of the CBF, who gave out the watches, José Maria Marin.

José Maria Marin, president of CBF, under house arrest in Manhattan after being extradited to the United States from Switzerland. Credit: Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

José Maria Marin, president of CBF, under house arrest in Manhattan after being extradited to the United States from Switzerland. Credit: Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

Marin was extradited to the United States from Switzerland this month. He pleaded not guilty, posted U$15 million in bail and is under house arrest in a Trump Tower apartment in Manhattan, one of the most expensive apartment buildings in New York.

Now, in one of many efforts to restore its reputation, FIFA is trying to purge the infamy of the Parmigiani watches. On Thursday, November 26, more than a year after the CBF said it distributed 65 watches that day at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, FIFA announced that it asked for the watches to be returned.

FIFA was able to locate 48 of the luxury accessories. The 48 watches have now been donated to a charity. The gift of the watches went to the Street Football World charity. The 48 watches have a total value of U$1.25 million (4.75 million reais). In coming days, the watches are expected to arrive in Berlin, where the charity has its headquarters. The proceeds from their eventual sale will be invested in football programs for disadvantaged youths in Brazil.

Parmigiani watch

Most of the officials who received the watches in the summer of 2014 said they were unaware of their value. “Who’s ever heard of a Parmigiani watch?” Michel D’Hooghe, honorary president of the Royal Belgian Football Association and a member of FIFA’s executive committee, said in an interview this week. Mr. D’Hooghe gave the watch to a friend as a souvenir of the tournament, he said. He thought no more about it until word soon traveled that the gifts were expensive, and that FIFA wanted them back.

In September 2014, FIFA’s ethics committee announced that it would not penalize officials who returned the watches by the end of October. Some people, like the head of England’s football association, Greg Dyke, publicly defied that deadline. Dyke did not hand back his watch until early in 2015, but he was not penalized.

As the United States and Switzerland now continue independent investigations into further possible corruption in football, FIFA has sought to show it is serious about rooting out unethical and illegal behavior. The organization’s announcement concerning the watches signaled that its ethics committee had invested time in collecting the accessories — some of them not in the possession of the officials to whom they were first given.

Greg Dyke with his watch

Greg Dyke with his watch

After initially saying it had distributed 65 watches, Brazil’s CBF provided FIFA with the names of 57 people who had received gifts, according to Andreas Bantel. FIFA has admitted they do not know exactly how many watches were given out, but they focused on the 57 named individuals.

Mr. Bantel reported they were able to retrieve 48 watches from those 57 individuals. FIFA did not identify the nine people who did not return watches, but one is a defendant in the United States’ case, Mr. Bantel said. That official took the Parmigiani watch to Zurich in May, planning to surrender it, but he was arrested in an early-morning raid of his hotel before he could follow through. The remaining eight officials told FIFA’s ethics investigators that they had never received the watches, or that they had been lost in international transit out of Brazil.

Jeffrey Webb, a former executive committee member of FIFA ,who was among the men recently indicted by the United States, received one of the gifts. To make bail last summer, Mr. Webb gave up 11 luxury watches, including three Rolexes, but a Parmigiani watch was not among them.

Jeffrey Webb

Jeffrey Webb

Jürgen Griesbeck, founder and chief executive of the Street Football World charity said he had reservations about accepting the tainted merchandise but ultimately decided to reinvest the money in grass-roots football in Brazil, where the organization’s broader mission includes helping at-risk youth find work.

The charity was not the first organization to be offered the returned watches. CBF, from which the watches came, turned down the chance to have them back.

For the Parmigiani watch company, the tie to the FIFA scandal has been positive, the brand has said. As a result of the scandal, a spokeswoman said in an email this week, traffic to the watchmaker’s website has tripled.

João Havelange

João Havelange

In other FIFA news, former FIFA president, João Havelange, was admitted to the hospital in Rio de Janeiro. Mr. Havelange was the head of FIFA before Sepp Blatter, holding that position for 24 years. Before becoming the head of FIFA, he was the head of CBF. He is now 99 years old and resigned as the president of FIFA amid corruption allegations.

Meanwhile, FIFA president Sepp Blatter has been suspended from his position by the FIFA ethics committee. The committee has also recommended that European Football Federation president Michel Platini be given a lifetime ban from international football. Also, the current head of CBF, Marco Polo Del Nero, resigned his position from the FIFA Executive Committee. He recommended Fernando Sarney as his replacement, and Mr. Sarney was immediately accepted by the Executive Committee.

In an ongoing corruption scandal of the building industry in Brazil, the country’s second largest construction company, Andrade Gutierrez, will confess to paying bribes for 2014 FIFA World Cup contracts, as well as bribes to Petrobras and Eletrobras, Folha de S. Paulo reported on Friday, November 27. The company has agreed to pay a fine of $1 billion reais.

Andrade Gutierrez's CEO Otávio Marques de Azevedo

Andrade Gutierrez’s CEO Otávio Marques de Azevedo

Andrade Gutierrez built the new football stadium in Manaus and worked on the renovations of World Cup venues in Rio, Porto Alegre, and Brasília for the 2014 games. Federal prosecutors in Curitiba have signed leniency deals with four companies, without disclosing their names. Brazil’s comptroller general (CGU) and anti-trust regulator CADE are also negotiating leniency deals with firms.

A CGU spokesman said Andrade Gutierrez was one of seven engineering firms negotiating a deal to avoid being blacklisted from future government contracts, but that no agreement had been reached yet. Andrade Gutierrez’s CEO Otávio Marques de Azevedo was arrested earlier this year and is currently negotiating a plea deal with federal prosecutors. It has not been revealed what he might say in exchange for a reduced sentence.

 

[Research for this article comes from The New York Times, The Guardian, and the Reuters news agency.]

 

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