BERNE, Switzerland, March 10 (Reuters) - A high profile fraud trial starting on Tuesday is set to shed light on the allegedly murky dealings that led to the spectacular collapse of FIFA’s former marketing partners ISL.
Six former executives of the defunct firm are facing charges ranging from embezzlement to the falsification of documents.
ISL managed FIFA’s marketing and television rights for more than 20 years, before its collapse in May 2001 with estimated debts of around $300 million.
Former partners also included the International Olympic Committee and the ATP tennis tour, with which ISL signed a $1.2 billion marketing deal in 1999 that was supposed to last for 10 years.
ISL’s collapse forced the ATP to lay off staff and slash its 2002 budget by more than 12 percent.
The aftershock at FIFA was even more dramatic with 11 members of the body’s executive committee filing a criminal complaint of financial mismanagement against their president Sepp Blatter.
The complaint was thrown out by public prosecutors in December 2002 who said the action was “bordering on false representation” and noted that the 11 men had themselves collectively approved of Blatter’s business decisions.
Having successfully navigated two presidential elections since the ISL collapse and repaired the hole in FIFA’s finances, Blatter has insisted his organisation will not be affected by the latest proceedings.
“We have nothing to fear,” Blatter told reporters following last weekend’s meeting of the International Football Association Board in Scotland.
“We started the court case against ISL because we lost money that should have been channelled to us.
“Official declarations by the court in Zug have said clearly that no officials or staff members of FIFA are sitting on the bench of the accused.
“It is only some journalists who think it is a trial against FIFA, naturally FIFA is touched by the case because it was our marketing agent. We look forward to the trial. It will not disturb the work and the responsilbilites of football, or FIFA.”
Former ISL chairman Jean-Marie Weber is among those on trial in the Swiss city of Zug. Prosecutors are calling for prison sentences of between three and four-and-a-half years while the defendants have entered non-guilty pleas against all the charges.
The criminal investigation leading up to the trial began when FIFA filed a fraud complaint against two individuals following ISL’s collapse.
World soccer’s governing body subsequently withdrew the complaint, saying it had decided to instead pursue civil proceedings.
Prosecutors continued with the investigation, however, eventually filing indictments in March 2007.
The trial is scheduled to last for around seven days spread out across March and April with verdicts due out in the summer. (additional reporting by Mike Collett)
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