The new FIFA boss Gianni Infantino wants to do away with the corrupt past of the association. But old marketing rights contracts from his time as head of the UEFA legal department now raise questions. Infantino rejected all accusations that evening.
By Jan Lukas Strozyk, NDR
Gianni Infantino took office as FIFA President at the end of February with a promise to reform the now disreputable association. He wanted to usher in a "new era", said Infantino in his inaugural speech, in which "football is finally the focus again". A contract from September 2006 can now make Infantino difficult to explain. At that time the Swiss was still employed by the European football association UEFA. At that time he was head of the legal department and three years later he was promoted to general secretary of the association.
UEFA signs contract with letterbox company on Niue
Infantino’s job at UEFA included reviewing and signing contracts like the one from September 2006. At that time, UEFA’s contractual partner was a company called "Cross Trading S.A.", a mailbox company based on the South Sea island of Niue. The contract and other documents relating to the company are part of the "Panama Papers", which NDR, WDR and "Suddeutsche Zeitung" have evaluated. The contract shows that between 20, UEFA sold broadcast rights for the Champions League to that letterbox company, apparently well below market value. "Cross Trading" has sold the rights to a TV station in Ecuador at a high premium. There are similar contracts in the documents for the rights of the "Uefa Cup" and the "Super Cup" in the same period. "Cross Trading" passed on the rights in some cases at three to four times the price and thus pocketed several hundred thousand US dollars.
The profits probably went into the cash register of Hugo Jinkis and his son Mariano. The two Argentinians are registered as beneficial owners for the letterbox company. The Jinkis family is deeply embroiled in the FIFA bribery scandal. The two were wanted by Interpol, were briefly in custody and are now waiting for their trial.
The FBI accuses them of bribing football association officials in order to buy broadcast rights cheaply from them. They then resold them – like the UEFA rights – at high surcharges. According to the US authorities, a mailbox company called "Cross Trading" is said to have been used to pay out the bribes. Whether this is the same company that signed the contract with UEFA cannot be said for sure. Father and son Jinkis have founded at least three letterbox companies in different countries through the provider Mossack Fonseca, but with almost identical names. The Panama Papers do not reveal whether UEFA officials were bribed in connection with these contracts.
Infantino signed it
The sales in 2006 at least went to the "Cross Trading" also went over the desk of Infantino. His name is on the document, next to the name of the then Vice-Secretary General of UEFA – and next to that of Hugo Jinkis. When asked, an Infantino spokesman initially stated that Infantino "had no business or knowledge of any of the persons or organizations listed below." Hugo and Mariano Jinkis were also mentioned in this question. A spokesman later said that after the confrontation with reporters, Infantino simply asked his former employer what to say. "The answer was based solely on information obtained from UEFA."
After several inquiries, UEFA finally confirmed that it had closed the deal with the Jinkis company and that Infantino was jointly responsible for it. Just a few weeks earlier, Uefa had also said at the request of NDR, WDR and SZ that it had never done business with Hugo or Mariano Jinkis. The "Panama Papers" clearly show that both Hugo Jinikis and the UEFA legal department have signed the contract.
Infantino’s answer to the "Panama Papers"
"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.
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. "
UEFA is rowing back
Confronted with this, the association explains: They simply did not know that Mr. Jinkis were behind "Cross Trading". After the "Suddeutsche Zeitung" confronted UEFA again with the content of the rights agreement, a spokesman wrote: "In the course of a recent review of our various business contracts, we discovered that the contracts in question had been signed by Hugo Jinkis." That is, however, irrelevant – at that time there was nothing against Jinkis.
It is true that Hugo Jinkis only came into the focus of investigators at a later point in time. The question arises, however, why UEFA sells television rights well below market value and then to a company of all places whose beneficial owners it does not know at all. This is especially true for a billion-dollar company like UEFA. The legal department would probably be responsible for such questions there – as in other companies.
Usual further licensing
In its statutes on the sale of broadcasting rights, UEFA explicitly stated at the time that sales would only be made to "broadcasters that have the necessary infrastructure, reach, resources and reputation". And on its website, the association wrote on the subject of television rights at the time: "In addition, UEFA pursues a transparent communication and advertising policy in order to make its own decision-making process comprehensible for everyone." Upon request, UEFA stated that the deal was a customary "re-licensing". However, no details are known about the contracts that "Cross Trading" ultimately concluded with the television stations.
The "Panama Papers" now provide the details. The documents show that "Cross Trading" secured the rights to broadcast three Champions League seasons on Ecuadorian television with the contract dated September 13, 2006: the agreed price was 111,000 US dollars. Months before, however, "Cross Trading" had apparently resold the same rights to the television station Teleamazonas for 311,700 US dollars. Why "Cross Trading" could be so sure of winning the contract from UEFA even before the contract was signed is not indicated in the documents.
UEFA: "No irregularities"
A year later, "Cross Trading" bought the rights to three seasons of the UEFA Cup and two Super Cup tournaments for $ 28,000. Teleamazonas, those transmissions were later worth $ 126,200. That means that Jinki’s father and son made more than $ 300,000 with just a few signatures through their mailbox company. The documents for the years 2003 to 2006 are incomplete. According to a person who is familiar with the operations at Teleamazonas, the station paid at least $ 400,000 to "cross trading" in those years..
UEFA rejects any suspicion of irregularities. The transmission rights were awarded in regular auctions. "There was never anything strange about contracts we signed and we were never investigated for misconduct of any kind," said a spokesman. Hugo and Mariano Jinkis did not answer questions about the stores. The television station Teleamazonas also did not comment on the contracts.