BERLIN, Germany (AFP) — The signature of new FIFA president Gianni Infantino has cropped up in the so-called “Panama Papers” in connection with questionable TV rights sales in South America, the German newspaper behind the mass leaks reported on Tuesday.
Swiss-Italian lawyer Infantino, 46, succeeded the suspended Sepp Blatter in February as the head of FIFA, which is reeling from the arrests of leading officials last year, as well as the clouds over the awardings of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively.
In his then-post as head of UEFA’s legal department, in 2006 and 2007 Infantino signed TV rights contracts for Champions League and other football tournaments with a letterbox company headed by two men who are now defendants in the FIFA scandal, reported the Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
But Infantino denied any wrongdoing in a statement sent to AFP.
“I am dismayed and will not accept that my integrity is being doubted by certain areas of the media, especially given that UEFA has already disclosed in detail all facts regarding these contracts,” said Infantino.
“From the moment I was made aware of the latest media enquiries on the matter, I immediately contacted UEFA to seek clarity. I did this because I am no longer with UEFA, and it is they who exclusively possess all contractual information relating to this query.
“In the meantime, UEFA has announced that it has been conducting a review of its numerous commercial contracts and has answered extensively all media questions related to these specific contracts.
“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.
“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.”
The two men who owned the company Cross Trading are Argentinian TV rights dealers Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, who have both been accused in the FIFA scandal by US investigators.
The father and son team are accused in the US of having bribed FIFA and other football officials to be able to cheaply acquire TV rights and then sell them at inflated margins.
In the rights deals signed with Infantino for UEFA, their company had also made huge profits, said the report — buying the rights for a total of $140,000 (123,000 euros) and selling them on for $440,000.
The transactions “raise the question: Why did UEFA sell the TV rights obviously well below value?”, asked the paper.
The report said FIFA, UEFA and Infantino, its former general secretary, had repeatedly denied having ever had any business dealings with Hugo and Mariano Jinkis.
Then, when confronted with the signed contract in late March, UEFA had confirmed to the newspaper that the contract indeed bore Infantino’s signature.
Sueddeutsche Zeitung said it was told by UEFA that the organisation did not know at the time who were the real owners of Cross Trading.
The so-called Panama Papers, a massive leak of 11.5 million documents about secret offshore financial dealings implicating world leaders and celebrities, has prompted several countries to open investigations.
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