What do the Panama Papers mean for FIFA president Gianni Infantino?

By | April 6, 2016

Gianni Infantino during UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying play-offs draw. Uploaded to Flickr by Piotr Drabik. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

In early 2015, an anonymous source began corresponding with German newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung, eventually submitting encrypted legal documents from a Panamanian law firm named Mossack Fonseca. The firm sells anonymous offshore companies, or shell companies, to owners around the world, enabling them to hide their business operations and engage in illegal practices such as tax evasion.1

Süddeutsche Zeitung eventually acquired over 2.6 terabytes of data, making the Panama Papers the biggest data leak in history. This week marked the beginning of the release of the data, as journalists from over 100 media organizations and 80 countries continue to examine the data which Süddeutsche Zeitung claims “proves how a global industry led by major banks, legal firms, and asset management companies secretly manages the estates of the world’s rich and famous: from politicians, Fifa officials, fraudsters and drug smugglers, to celebrities and professional athletes.”1

The size of the leak is massive, and journalists have been engaging in the tedious task of carefully going through all of the data, because simply owning a shell company isn’t necessarily a crime. In fact, establishing shell companies is seen as a logical move for corporations looking to expand overseas. However, in many cases, shell companies can be used to cover up the internal workings of a business. As a result, they can facilitate tax evasion, bribery, racketeering, money laundering, drug trafficking and a host of other illegal and immoral practices.1

However, although numerous names have been identified in the documents, many of the people listed are likely innocent. This is where the hard work of over 400 journalists over the course of a year comes in. By trying to link people with different companies and proxies, they can help draw a clear picture of who may actually be engaging in illegal practices.1

Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, unclarity still exists regarding the role of some of the most prominent and powerful figures in the world. One of the most important people to be named in the papers is the current president of FIFA, Gianni Infantino. A dual Swiss-Italian citizen and the former UEFA secretary general, Infantino won the presidency of FIFA in February after Sepp Blatter was ousted from the position following massive corruption charges.2

Corruption in FIFA has become somewhat expected considering the recent corruption case involving Blatter and other high-ranking FIFA officials, but Infantino’s presidency marked an opportunity for the organization to move past their previous mistakes and look forward towards an era of honesty and transparency. Unfortunately, the recent leak has cast doubts on his ability to do so.2

Although they have not implicated Infantino, the recently leaked documents containing his name have raised questions about his role in deals negotiated during his tenure as director of legal services at UEFA. The documents reveal that UEFA dealt with one of the figures indicted in the 2015 FIFA corruption case, which has been described as a “World Cup of fraud.” Suspiciously, UEFA had previously insisted that it had done no business with anyone implicated in the scandal. However, the recently leaked contracts, cosigned by Infantino, reveal for the first time a link between UEFA and one of the companies involved in the massive corruption case.2

Despite the findings, UEFA has claimed that the contracts were all legitimate, and that it had no reason to believe that the party on the other side of the deal would later be indicted for corruption.2

The contracts in question reveal that in 2006, while Infantino worked at UEFA, the organization reached a deal with an Argentinian company called Cross Trading to sell the rights for broadcasting European club competitions in South America. Almost immediately after the transaction, Cross Trading sold the rights to broadcaster Teleamazonas for almost four times the amount they paid to UEFA.2

Cross Trading is owned by another company known as Full Play, the owner of which is a man by the name of Hugo Jinkins. Jinkins was one of the central figures in the 2015 FIFA corruption case, being accused by the United States of bribing football executives in millions of dollars in order to acquire and retain media and marketing rights.2

The recently revealed Panama Papers establish a concrete link between Infantino and one of the biggest players in the recent corruption scandal which ousted FIFA’s former president. Although Infantino and UEFA deny that they knew anything about the shady business practices of Cross Trading, the leaked documents don’t bode well for FIFA’s new president.2

Succeeding a disgraced president, Infantino came into the position promising to “restore full confidence in FIFA among all of (FIFA’s) stakeholders.” Unfortunately, the Panama Papers may impede his plans to do so, and although they may never show that he knowingly participated in illegal business practices, they will certainly entangle him and the rest of FIFA in a web of doubt and suspicion.2

  1. Obermaier, F., Obermayer, B., Wormer, V., & Jaschensky, W. (n.d.). About the Panama Papers. Süddeutsche Zeitung. Retrieved April 06, 2016, from http://panamapapers.sueddeutsche.de/articles/56febff0a1bb8d3c3495adf4/
  2. Gibson, O. (2016, April 05). Fifa president Gianni Infantino pulled into corruption scandal. The Guardian. Retrieved April 06, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/news/2016/apr/05/panama-papers-pull-fifa-uefa-chief-gianni-infantino-corruption-scandal

2 thoughts on “What do the Panama Papers mean for FIFA president Gianni Infantino?

  1. Jed Stone

    Great blog! I think you highlight a critical aspect such that being implicated in the Panama Papers does not equate to illegal activity. While I still do not feel like I fully understand why an individual would go through these methods to harbor their money, I would get the sense that there is some legitimacy and rationale to using it. I recall just earlier this week hearing that Messi was a name you could find among the terabytes of data implicating people. I was pretty disappointed and just assumed he was guilty of something. I suppose the incredible scale to which these documents affect so many individuals and companies suggests that either everybody is guilty (unlikely) or that just some are. The trouble to me seems to be in the fact that headlines after this data dump read criminal almost immediately. For instance, the Prime Minister of Iceland was forced to resign after the papers were leaked.
    I’m very interested to see how the coming months play out as investigative bodies and journalists sift through the data to uncover the criminals.

  2. Cali Nelson

    At this point I wonder if you could find someone in FIFA leadership, or its six federations, or who isn’t in some way connected to corruption. If the allegations against Infantino turn out to be true, he should be forced out of the presidency, and another election held. Sepp Blatter was allowed to get away with so much as president of FIFA and as we’ve seen its caused huge issues around the world. Infantino shouldn’t be given the same leash Blatter was. If FIFA wants to be seen as finally taking corruption seriously, if these allegations are true, it needs to punish Infantino accordingly, and find new leadership. I think that at some point FIFA might need to look outside its current leadership for its next president, as I don’t know if anyone in the current leadership is untainted by the corruption.


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