The governing body of world football Fifa, could face another crisis after the Panama papers revealed an apparent conflict of interest at the heart of the ethics committee which was supposed to clean it up.
The documents were a part of a huge trove of data on offshore accounts leaked from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, which helps clients set up companies in offshore tax regimes. The papers show that links between Juan Pedro Damiani, a Uruguayan lawyer and long-serving member of the ethics committee, and Eugenio Figueredo, a former senior Fifa vice-president recently accused of corruption, are far more extensive than previously known.
After the leak, Fifa’s ethics committee immediately, insisting it did not know about Damiani’s business links to Figueredo before the former informed its chair, the German judge Hans-Joachim Eckert.
The records do not show illegal conduct by Damiani or his law firm but a spokesperson for Fifa’s ethics investigatory committee told the BBC in a statement: “We confirm that on 19 March, the investigatory chamber of the independent ethics committee was informed by the chairperson of the adjudicatory chamber, Hans-Joachim Eckert, about becoming recently aware of a business relationship between the member of the adjudicatory chamber Juan Pedro Damiani, and Eugenio Figueredo Aguerre.
According to the Panama papers, Damiani and his law firm act for more than 200 offshore companies registered with Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian legal firm whose database has been leaked.
There is nothing unlawful in acting for or setting up offshore companies, but the lack of transparency is a cause for concern.
Messi in a mess?
The documents include the names of nearly 20 high-profile soccer players, past and present, representing some of the globe’s best-known professional football clubs, including Barcelona, Manchester United and Real Madrid.
One of the most prominent names among them is the Barcelona star Lionel Messi, who is regarded by most as the World’s best footballer. Messi is currently on trial in Spain for tax evasion.
Records show he and his father, Jorge Horacio, were the ultimate beneficial owners of a company called Mega Star Enterprises, registered by Mossack Fonseca in February 2012. There is nothing unlawful about having an offshore company.
Both men are currently on trial in Spain for tax evasion. That case centres on the alleged simulated transfer of image rights into front companies with no business activity in Uruguay and Belize. Both men have denied the accusations and instead blamed a former financial adviser. Jorge Messi made a voluntary corrective payment of €5m in August 2013. Mega Star enterprises is not mentioned in the case.
While both Messi and his father declined to comment when contacted by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), according to a Reuters report, both men denied any wrongdoing.
The ICIJ said the documents also allege that suspended Uefa chief Michel Platini turned to Mossack Fonseca to help him administer an offshore company created in Panama in 2007.
Platini is serving a six-year ban from all football-related activity for an ethics breach after former Fifa president Sepp Blatter approved a $2 million payment to the Frenchman in 2011 for consultancy work done without a contract a decade earlier.
Late Sunday, Platini’s communications service told AFP that his entire financial records and properties had been made known to the Swiss authorities since 2007.