A Record of My Struggle against FIFA

June 21, 2018
MJ Chung


For the past four years, I fought a long legal battle against FIFA.  Last February, the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) handed out its decision.  That is why I did not participate in international football events during this period.

When I recently visited Russia for the World Cup, friends asked me what had happened between FIFA and I.  I tried to explain as simply as possible, but rather than provide an oral explanation each time, I decided to write up a synopsis of my case against FIFA.

The following is not meant to be a criticism of anyone but rather the facts regarding my case that I wanted to share with my friends in football.

Four years ago, the FEC started its “investigation” against me.  Ever since then, I had to suffer through false-accusations, character assassinations, and interminable and unjustifiable delays.  Just as the FEC had intended, the time and energy that I had to devote to this case, as well as the emotional toll, has been enormous.

As this case dragged on, seemingly forever, I persevered to show that I did not commit the ethics violations that FEC alleged.

From my perspective, FIFA’s ethics investigation and subsequent sanctions were fundamentally flawed in terms of both procedure and substance.  The following is a synopsis of my case.  The source of most of the quotations is the CAS award.

Procedurally, the whole process was hopelessly and unreasonably delayed.  As the CAS award stated, I “had to serve a longer suspension than the Panel finds to be warranted” and that this was because of FIFA’s “excessive and unjustified delays.”

In fact, my sanctions lasted for 13 months longer than “warranted.”  In its February 2018 decision CAS reduced my sanctions from 5 years to 15 months and stated that the sanction against me had already expired as of January 2017.

The Chairman of the Adjudicatory Chamber of the FEC, Hans Joachim Eckert, and the Chairman of FIFA’s Appeal Committee, Larry Mussenden, were directly responsible for these delays.  Even though I repeatedly wrote them to send me their respective “Reasoned Decision” as soon as possible in order to appeal my case to CAS, they were inexcusably late. They owe me a public apology.

For them to announce the sanction against me first and then spend 7 months and 9 months, respectively, for a combined 16 months to send the basis for the sanction was “unconscionable.”  This is like a judge sentencing somebody to death and then announcing the grounds for the decision 16 months after the execution was carried out.  As the CAS arbitrators would later say in their award, “delays of magnitude displayed by FIFA in dealing with this sensitive case are not acceptable.  Justice delayed is justice denied.”

This was also in stark contrast to the speed with which Platini and Blatter received their Reasoned Decisions, only about a week after the Appeal Committee’s decisions.  At the Appeal Committee stage of the proceedings against Blatter, the Reasoned Decision was delivered just 8 days later.  Platini received the Reasoned Decision only 9 days after the Terms of Decision.  Clearly, these committees are capable of moving efficiently.  They simply chose not to do so in my case.

I do not know the internal workings of FIFA.  Can you think of another explanation?

In terms of substance, as far as I can see, FEC’s case against me should not have been brought about in the first place.

A year before the “investigation” started, Mr. Borbely, then-vice-chairman of the Investigatory Chamber, met with Dr. Han, the former Chairman of the Korea World Cup Bid Committee in March 2014 for an interview during which Mr. Borbely told Dr. Han, “There are no allegations against you or your team.”  Then, in January 2015, as I was preparing my campaign for FIFA Presidency, the FEC opened an investigation against me alleging that there was “prima facie” evidence that I had violated FIFA Code of Ethics.

However, as soon as the so-called “investigation” against me began, rumors became rampant that I was the target of an FEC investigation.

In July 2015, I attended the Women’s World Cup final in Vancouver.  When I arrived on Friday, July 3, the President MG Chung of Korea Football Association, who had arrived a couple of days earlier, told me something very disturbing.  Prior to my arrival in Vancouver, he had met with a FIFA Vice President.  At their meeting, the Vice President said that if I were to announce my candidacy for FIFA President in the then-upcoming election, the FEC would sanction me in order to prevent me from running.  When I met this Vice President at his hotel to confirm, he told me the same thing.  I told him I did not want to believe that FIFA could be that corrupt politically.

Three weeks later, from July 24-26, I was in Philadelphia for the Gold Cup finals.  At the time, I was travelling with Dr. Hahm, a colleague.  Dr. Hahm had lunch with a lawyer from the law firm that was representing CONCACAF.  During lunch, the lawyer told Dr. Hahm that he, too, had heard rumors that if I were to announce my candidacy for FIFA President, the FIFA Ethics Committee would sanction me to prevent me from running.

On July 30, a Reuters correspondent based in Seoul called Dr. Hahm to say that a fellow Reuters correspondent covering FIFA in Zurich told him that he and most of the reporters covering FIFA had heard rumors that FIFA Ethics Committee would sanction me to prevent me from running for FIFA Presidency.  He asked Dr. Hahm whether he could confirm this.

Then on August 1, as I arrived in Malaysia to campaign for FIFA presidency, an article appeared in Inside World Football, which alleged that “Usually reliable sources have alerted Inside World Football to the fact that Chung may be facing some ethics issues in a forthcoming Ethics Committee ruling which would potentially prevent him from running for the presidency.”

As was widely reported in the press at the time, Inside World Football was controlled by Peter Hargitay, a former special advisor to Blatter.  One such report said, “Hargitay now controls a peculiar online newsletter ‘Inside World Football’ based in Switzerland that appears to be part-funded by Sepp Blatter.  Hargitay writes a demented and often toxic column under the troll-name ‘Inside Insight.’”

Mr. Blatter himself admitted during a newspaper interview in December 2015 that he was the one that appointed the Ethics Committee:  “I put these people into the office, where they are now in the ethics committee.”

These were efforts to discredit me in the eyes of the public.  Stories were even published in media agencies such as Bloomberg News, alleging that I was being investigated for my charitable donations for earthquake victims in Haiti and flood victims in Pakistan. The 2010 earthquake in Haiti killed more than 300,000 people and displaced 1.5 million while the flood in Pakistan killed more than 1,000 and displaced 20 million.  That is why I donated USD 200,000 to Haiti and also USD 200,000 to Pakistan.  I have been making charitable donations to those in need, both in Korea and overseas, since the 1990s.  The yearly stipend that I received from FIFA as Vice President was donated to charity.  However, these stories tried to portray my philanthropy as bribery.

As for the so-called “ethics violations” that the FEC accused me of having violated were quite serious: “vote trading” and “giving the appearance of offering benefits.”  Allow me to elaborate in more detail.

As part of the “investigation,” the FEC sent me questions three times: sixty-nine questions on April 14, 2014, fifty questions on February 13, 2015, and nineteen more questions on March 17, 2015.  One of the questions it sent me in February 2015 was “Would it surprise you to learn that the Chairman of England 2018, Mr Geoff Thompson has admitted to agreeing to trade your vote for England 2018, in exchange for England’s vote for Korea 2022?”   While proven to be groundless, the FEC clearly thought that it had the critical piece of evidence against me.  And armed with this “evidence,” they were only too happy to launch an investigation against me.

The alleged “vote-trading” occurred when I met Mr. Geoff Thompson, the English ExCo member when together we paid a courtesy visit on Prince William at the Prince’s request in the Prince’s suite at Baur au Lac Hotel in Zurich on December 1, 2010.  This was one day before the vote for World Cup 2018 and 2022 venues.  As I distinctly recall, when I went to the Prince’s suite, Prime Minister Cameron was also there.  Dr. Lee Hong-Koo, former Prime Minister of Korea and Ambassador to Great Britain, was also present at the gathering.

In essence, the FEC was accusing me of having traded votes with Mr. Thompson in the company of Prince William and the Prime Minister Cameron of Great Britain the day before the vote.  I wrote FEC to ask if they were investigating Prince William and PM Cameron as well.

Moreover, according to the transcript of the interview between Mr. Thompson and Mr. Garcia, Mr. Thompson did not even remember whether Prince William was present when he and I and PM Cameron were allegedly making this deal.

On an even more comical note, the Investigatory Chamber sent me the transcript of the interview between Thompson and Garcia as an attachment to its first set of questions.  It was sent to me obviously because they thought this would be an incontrovertible “proof” of my complicity in the alleged vote-trade.  However, when I quoted them back from the same transcript questioning Mr. Thompson’s memory and pointing out how incoherent he was, they demanded to know how I had acquired a copy of the transcript!

There was yet another reason why a vote-trading deal with Britain would have made no sense.  In November 2010 in Kuala Lumpur, the seat of AFC, England’s bid team, headed by Mr. Jeremy Hunt, , England’s Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, Chief Executive Andy Anson and Ambassador Paul Elliott as well as Mr. Thomson, gave a presentation on their bid for 2018 World Cup.   During a private conversation after their formal presentation, I asked the English bid committee members whether given their historical and political ties toward the U.S. or Australia, they would vote for one of these two countries for 2022.  They said “yes” without hesitation.

The charge of giving “the appearance of offering a benefit” was in reference to the letters I sent fellow FIFA ExCo members explaining Korea World Cup 2022 Bid Committee’s “Global Football Fund (GFF)” proposal.

The GFF was announced by the Chairman of the Korea World Cup Bid Committee, Dr. Han, at the “Leaders in Football” conference in London on 7 October 2010.  My letters to ExCo members were sent afterwards.  What I shared with them was information that was already fully public by the media such as the New York Times.

Moreover, there was nothing unusual about the GFF.  It was perfectly in line with the “Football Development” projects that FIFA required as part of all national bids.

Back in 1995, when Korea bid for World Cup 2002, a financial pledge of $300 million was included which was the projected profit from hosting the event.  Korea thought that hosting a World Cup was privilege enough.  The profits from the tournament could be shared among the global football community.

England’s bid team for the 2018 World Cup proposed a “Football United” fund which it described as, “a unique chance to create a new global fund for football that aims to match FIFA’s current spending on football development . . . imagine what this would mean for your Confederation.”

In its bid for World Cup 2022, Qatar proposed “grassroots and talent-scouting programmes in Thailand and Nigeria,” “support through football in 16 schools in Nepal and Pakistan,” and “construction of 22 modular stadiums for countries in need,” among other things.  England’s fund would have overwhelmed the GFF by many times.   Qatar’s projects surely will.

Unable to produce any evidence to back them up, the “vote-trading” allegation was dropped by the Investigatory Chamber and the “offering of benefits” allegation by the Adjudicatory Chamber.  Remember, these were the allegations that FEC used to start the investigation.  There was no substance to begin with.

However, rather than stopping the investigation and dropping the case altogether after realizing that the original allegations were groundless, the FEC dragged the case on by making frivolous charges. When it failed to hold up the allegation that I had given “an appearance of offering a benefit” by sending the letters to ExCo Members in 2010, it then made an issue out of the fact that I had sent those letters using the FIFA letterhead.  The FEC alleged that sending letters in my capacity as FIFA Vice President was inappropriate.

Even though that was the impression that the FEC tried to create, as a matter of fact, sending a letter using FIFA’s letterhead does not automatically make its content “approved” or “endorsed” by FIFA.  Blatter sent out innumerable letters using FIFA President’s letterhead.  That did not mean that the contents were “approved” or “endorsed” by FIFA.  In fact, using the FIFA letterhead for exchange of birthday and holiday wishes, as well as other felicitations was a widespread, well-established practice among ExCo Members.  This was like a bad joke.

For example, in October 2007, I sent a letter to fellow ExCo Members using the FIFA letterhead informing them that I had scored a “hole-in-one” during a round of golf.   ExCo Members sent me back congratulatory notes, some of them using official FIFA letterheads and some using other official football-related organizations’ letterheads.

When nothing else seemed to work, the FEC accused me of procedural violations that I allegedly committed in the course of the “investigation.”

When I wrote letters to Blatter protesting against the proceedings, the FEC informed me that it will be extending the “investigation” for a breach of “confidentiality.”  Even as the Adjudicatory Chamber acknowledged that “every official of FIFA has the right to write to the President if he feels that there is a problem that needs to be addressed,” it used the letters as an excuse to extend its “investigation” against me.  Later, CAS pointed out this contradiction in FEC’s argument and concluded, “the Appellant sought only to complain about what he believed in good faith to be an unfair and politically-motivated proceeding.”

In yet another futile attempt to incriminate me, FEC accused me of “defaming” it and recommended an additional 4-year sanction on top of the 15 years that it had already recommended for a combined sanction of 19 years !  It was referring to a proposal in a brochure that I had prepared for my FIFA presidential campaign of 2015.  It stated, “The heads of independent judicial committees should not be nominated by the President as they currently are, but by an “independent search committee.”  The FEC claimed that I was questioning their independence, thereby “defaming” it !

If this indeed constituted “defamation” as the FEC argued, Eckert, the head of the Adjudicatory Chamber was an interested party and should have recused himself from my case.  However, Eckert rejected my request that he recuse himself and proceeded to preside over my case.  The FEC and Eckert failed to adhere to even the most basic principle of a fair judicial process.

Such outrageous charges, however, could not be sustained.  Eventually, even the “breach of confidentiality” and “defamation” charges were dropped.  This was yet another clear indication that the investigation against me was “politically motivated.”

Still, the FEC accused me of “failure to cooperate” with the investigation and for being late in sending in my replies to the FEC.

At the time I was running in the ruling party’s primary to elect the candidate for Mayor of Seoul.  My schedule was consumed by the election campaign.  However, from April 2014, Korea was gripped by a major political and social crisis caused by a tragic ferry accident.  Most of the 304 victims of this tragedy were high school students on a field trip.   The nation came to a standstill.  As an active politician during this national tragedy, I could not find time for personal matters and was unable to attend to any other matter.

That was the reason that my replies to FEC’s 69 excruciatingly detailed questions were delayed by 15 days.  However, for this, the FEC imposed a 5-year sanction against me.

In its decision, CAS noted that “the Appellant’s negligible delay in providing the answers…. Must be juxtaposed with FIFA’s own delay in conducting the proceedings, which far exceeded it and had far greater implications.”  It also said, “The pot cannot fairly call the kettle black, especially when it itself is blacker.”

Here, I would like to turn your attention to the infamous ISL case as an illustration of how the FEC intentionally overlooked a case of blatant corruption within FIFA in stark contrast to its dogged pursuit of me.

In 1997, when Blatter was Secretary General of FIFA, he turned a blind eye to then-President João Havelange’s receiving bribes from International Sports and Leisure in exchange for World Cup TV rights.   ISL had made a 1.5 million Swiss francs transfer into FIFA’s bank account.   The designated recipient was Havelange.  This was a mistake on the part of ISL.  The fund, a bribe from ISL, should have been sent directly to Havelange, not to FIFA Secretary General Blatter.  However, rather than reporting this bribe or opening an investigation, Blatter simply returned the money to ISL.  Moreover, despite having prior knowledge of the impending bankruptcy of ISL, Blatter failed to inform the FIFA Executive Committee immediately and even “scaled down the extent of ISL bankruptcy’s impact on FIFA finances.”

One year later in 1998, Blatter ran for FIFA President and was elected with the full-backing of Havelange.  There were widespread reports of corruption on the part of Blatter.

The FEC did nothing about Blatter’s corruption despite a lengthy investigation by Swiss authorities and an avalanche of media reports.  The Swiss authorities raided FIFA headquarters in 2005 and continued its investigation into the ISL bribery case.  The investigation revealed that Blatter had known about a bribery check mistakenly made out to FIFA by ISL.  Swiss authorities revealed incriminating documents that proved that between 1992 and 2000, Havelange and Ricardo Teixeira had received tens of millions of dollars in bribes from ISL.   Despite the persistent effort on the part of Havelange and Blatter to hinder justice, the Swiss Supreme Court ordered these documents to be made public in 2012.

In 2013, one year after the conclusion of the Swiss authorities’ investigation, the FIFA Ethics Committee reluctantly started to look into the ISL bribery case.  However, the FIFA Ethics Committee exonerated Blatter, claiming that he was merely “clumsy.”

The contrast between the sheer magnitude of the ISL corruption and FEC’s brazen attempt to cover it up, on the one hand, and its effort to “investigate” me based on trumped-up charges and technicalities, on the other, could not be more glaring.

It is no wonder that during a U.S. Senate hearing on FIFA’s corruption in July 2015, Senator Richard Blumenthal said, “The fact of the matter is that what has been revealed so far is a mafia-style crime syndicate in charge of this sport.  My only hesitation in using that term is that it is almost insulting to the mafia because the mafia would never have been so blatant, overt, and arrogant in its corruption.”

In September 2015, The New York Times reported, “the word ‘FIFA’ coupled with the word ‘ethics’ is seen by most as an oxymoron.”

If I were to have been sanctioned for 5 years for sending letters to fellow ExCo members, how many years, in your view, should Blatter have been sanctioned for?

After the hearing in November 2017, CAS announced its award in February 2018.  In its award, CAS rejected almost all of FIFA’s arguments and lifted most of the sanctions saying that the sanctions against me were “evidently and grossly disproportionate.”  It reduced the original 5-year sanction to 15 months and said that my sanction had already expired as of January 2017.  CAS ordered FIFA to return the CHF 50,000 fine that it said was “unconscionable.”

The 19-year sanction that the FEC tried to impose on me was reduced to 15 months by CAS. CAS concluded that I could have cooperated more closely with investigators on occasion, but that none of these instances was a “major infraction.”

Because of FIFA’s delays and negligence, I was subjected to 13 extra-months of sanction.   FIFA should take moral responsibility for this.

FIFA’s injustice against me was perpetrated under the old FIFA of Blatter.  I only have best wishes for the new FIFA that can overcome Blatter’s dark legacy.

I wish that you can empathize with the painful ordeal that I had been subjected to by old FIFA.  I hope that you are glad that, in the end, CAS was able to find out the truth.

Despite the hardship that I had to endure because of old FIFA, my love and respect for the institution has never flagged.  I now hope to put this painful chapter in my relationship with FIFA behind.

This summary has turned out to be much longer than I had originally intended.  I was only trying to assist you in better understanding my case.  I thank you for your patience in reading this through.

Thank you very much.