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Andy Spalding on 8-year FIFA ban for Blatter and Platini

The FIFA ethics committee has imposed eight-year suspensions on both the current and once-likely future presidents of FIFA. This effectively topples FIFA’s once-entrenched ruling hierarchy, and marks the most important achievements to date of the U.S.-led corruption investigation.

Current (though suspended) president Sepp Blatter and his groomed replacement, Michel Platini, were found to have abused their positions in relation to a $2 million payment Blatter made to Platini in 2011. The payment coincided with Platini’s decision to not challenge Blatter for the presidency.

This announcement is important on several levels.

First, the suspensions break the chain of leadership that stretches back over 40 years. The Brazilian Jaoa Havelange assumed the presidency in 1974 and established both the structure, and the culture, of modern FIFA governance. He hand-picked Blatter to succeed him, and Blatter in turn groomed Platini. With Platini out, the next president will not come from this hereditary line. We are all eager to see whether fresh blood will translate into improved governance.

This suspension also serves as redemption for the German head of FIFA’s adjudicatory chamber, Judge Hans-Joachim Eckert. Recall that former U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia been brought in as an independent investigator when revelations of impropriety related to the Russia and Qatar awards arose. Garcia reportedly discovered substantial corruption, but his findings were never made public and the report was published with an embarrassing degree of redaction. Eckert was largely responsible for these decisions, and both he and FIFA took major reputational hits. But Eckert has now proven that he is not merely protecting the FIFA ruling elite; he is actually working to protect FIFA.

Finally, these suspensions constitute yet another domino to fall as a result of the U.S. DOJ’s initial FIFA indictments. Those indictments first led the Swiss authorities to open a criminal investigation against Blatter, and have now pressured the Eckert-led FIFA ethics committee to take serious action.

The FIFA investigation is rapidly becoming the world’s foremost symbol that anti-corruption enforcement can make a difference; that systemic corruption is in fact not inevitable. Of course, the extent to which these enforcement actions will result in systemic change to FIFA’s governance remains to be seen. Still, we are witnessing an historic moment in the global anti-corruption movement, and kudos to those most responsible for making it happen.

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Andy Spalding is a Senior Editor of the FCPA Blog and Associate Professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.

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4 Comments

  1. Andy, Not so certain this clears Eckert. There is hardly an explanation for his action on the Garcia Report, at least after Garcia said there is no excuse for Eckert's redactions or his absurd conclusion that the Ethics Committee found no irregularities with the 2010 World Cup venue decisions.

    Faced with an incredible story about a nine year old undocumented "obligation" now being investigated by the Swiss Attorney General, Eckert and the Ethics (sic) Committee had no choice but to ban them both. GIven the many lifetime bans on Blatter's "enemies" within FIFA, 8 years was a gift to both Platini and Blatter.

    The real problem is FIFA is still accountable to no one for anything ever, and the next President comes from the corrupt FIFA culture,. Thus we have little hope of the fundamental change FIFA desperately needs.

    It is important to recognize the crucial role of Loretta Lunch's Indictments in starting the attack on FIFA's corrupt culture, something the world has recognized and ignored for decades.

    We shall see what 2016 brings.

    Thanks for keeping us abreast of the FIFAfiasco,.

  2. In all this it should not be forgotten that it was Mark Pieth's Committee that successfully recommended to FIFA and Blatter the establishment of a new ethics committee with a investigative and a judiciary chamber (including the proposal of the now lauded judge Eckert) that made such a procedure possible and that it was a Swiss bank that through a suspicious activity report about the CHF 2 m transaction between Blatter and Platini triggered an investigation by the Swiss Public Prosecutor which in the end was the basis for today's verdict.

    Hans-Peter Bauer

    Basel

  3. Fully agree, Andy. We must recognise though that it's not 'over until the big lady sings'. Blatter put up a defiant response and will challenge the decision in a sports tribunal. Platini not even bothered to show up for his hearing and will doubtlessly also appeal.
    From what is publicly known these 'disloyal payments' are highly conspicuous: Platini was paid for services that allegedly took place more than years earlier and for which there's no written contractual basis. And it all happened st a time that Platini gave up running against Blatter for the presidency!
    Blatter makes an interesting point that he may be suspended but has the presidency does not appear to have been taken away from him. Let's hope that's included in the written verdict of Eckhert.
    Now the big question is: are there capable people to take on senior FIFA roles who are also clean! Some serious due diligence will be required.

    Frank

  4. Andy-forced to agree with Bruce Bean. I in no way see how the Blatter or Platini suspensions absolve Eckerd from his clear complicity in perpetuating the old order. If he was interested in allowing the light of day to shine in on FIFA, he certainly had his chance. But he didn't and I have seen nothing to indicate that he was part of the old guard and continues to be a part of the problem.

    Tom


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