Nearly 50 luxury watches confiscated from football officials who had received them as “gifts” ahead of the World Cup in Brazil have been donated to charity, FIFA’s ethics committee said Thursday. The watches, estimated to be worth 25,000 Swiss francs ($24,400, 23,000 euros) apiece, were given to streetfootballworld, an international network of groups which uses football to help young people.
Ahead of last year’s World Cup, the Brazilian Football Confederation handed out 65 gift bags each containing a Parmigiani timepiece to FIFA Executive Committee officials and members of the 32 competing associations. The gifts created a furore at the time but now disgraced FIFA bosses, including president Sepp Blatter, denied any corruption.
However, the ethics committee’s investigative branch has determined that the watches were “unauthorised gifts,” and called on officials to hand them over. It agreed not to open formal ethical proceedings against anyone who complied. The ethics committee said in a statement its probe had determined that “from the initially intended 65 watches offered by the CBF to football officials, several officials had, in fact, not received a watch”.
It said that once all potential recipients had been contacted, 48 watches were handed over. The football charity will “directly invest all resources generated through the sale of the watches into initiatives across Brazil that use football to drive social change,” it said, adding that the matter was now considered closed.
When the ethics committee ordered that the watches be handed over in September 2014, now embattled UEFA president Michel Platini publicly balked, saying he was “surprised” by the decision. “I was not raised like that,” he said, declaring it was bad manners to return gifts and insisting he would instead establish the true worth of the watch and contribute the amount to a charity.
Platini, who until recently was the favourite to take over the reins at FIFA, has been suspended for 90 days and could now be facing a lifetime ban over a suspect payment, amid the massive scandal rocking world football’s governing body.
Current FIFA president Blatter, who has also been slapped with a 90-day suspension, also brushed aside the watch controversy when it hit the headlines last year, insisting there was no corruption involved and describing it as “a non-problem.”
Blatter has agreed to step down as FIFA boss following a special election in February, a concession made days after the United States charged 14 ex-FIFA officials and sports marketing executives with corruption amounting to $150-million going back decades. Those indictments kicked off an unprecedented scandal at FIFA, sparking widespread calls for reform.