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Executives of former FIFA partner to stand trial
« on: March 10, 2008, 12:28:12 PM »
Executives of former FIFA partner to stand trialAssociated Press
Updated: March 10, 2008, 9:56 AM EST Comment add this RSS blog email print GENEVA (AP) - Six executives of FIFA's former marketing partner will go on trial Tuesday, charged with embezzlement, fraud, fraudulent bankruptcy, damaging creditors and falsification of documents.
ISL/ISMM, FIFA's marketing partner for almost two decades, left an estimated debt of US$300 million (196 million) when it collapsed in 2001.
The bankruptcy led to bitter clashes between FIFA and UEFA, which questioned FIFA president Sepp Blatter's handling of marketing deals.

Prosecutors say the criminal mishandling at ISL/ISMM amounted to more than 100 million Swiss francs (US$98 million; 64 million), but have so far declined to comment on reports in German and British media that the company paid out millions in bribes to sell lucrative contracts for sponsorship and broadcast rights to major sports events.

If convicted, the defendants could face up to 4 1/2 years in prison.

The six executives, who have not been named because of Switzerland's strict privacy rules, deny all charges.

The case centers on employees of ISL and its parent group ISMM, which owned the television and marketing rights to the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.

The company's collapse tore a hole in FIFA's finances, prompting the Zurich-based body to lodge a criminal complaint over irregularities in ISL/ISMM's accounts.

It also led to bitter clashes between Blatter and his former No. 2, Michel Zen-Ruffinen, and former UEFA president Lennart Johannson. Zen-Ruffinen accused Blatter of engaging in irregular payments in connection with marketing deals. Blatter denied any wrongdoing and was re-elected in 2002 for a second term as president of one of the world's most powerful sports bodies.

"It was a major crisis for FIFA," said Andreas Herren, a FIFA spokesman.

"Ninety-two percent of all revenue that FIFA generates comes from the television rights and the marketing rights for the World Cup," Herren added. "Anything affecting those rights is a major issue for us."

In 2004, FIFA said it would try to recover 125 million francs (US$122 million; 80 million) it was owed by ISL/ISMM through civil proceedings, and dropped its criminal complaint.

But Thomas Hildbrand, an investigating magistrate in the Swiss canton (state) of Zug, continued the criminal probe and compiled a 228-page indictment of ISL/ISMM group last year. That report will be released at the start of the trial.

According to German magazine Der Spiegel, the indictment contains allegations that more than 18 million francs (US$17.6 million; 11.5 million) were transferred to persons directly or indirectly connected to contracts negotiated by ISMM.

Herren said FIFA was in no position to comment on bribery allegations, but noted that FIFA was only one of ISMM's many clients.

British daily The Guardian has reported that at least one FIFA official was among those to receive payments. Zug prosecutors declined to comment on the reports ahead of the trial, but lead prosecutor Marc von Dach said last year that no current or former FIFA officials were under investigation.

Blatter said FIFA was affected by the case against its former marketing agent, but added that the organization was not worried about the trial.

"Why should we fear something we have started," Blatter said at a meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland. "This will not disturb the work and responsibilities of the world of football, and FIFA and the president."

A verdict in the trial is expected later this year.


Associated Press writers Christine Wanner in Bern, Switzerland, and Rob Harris in Gleneagles, Scotland, contributed to this report.
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