Nike, the Brazilian national football team, and $40 million paid into a Swiss bank account

Brazil 1998 world cupGetty ImagesBrazil’s national team lining up ahead of the 1998 World Cup Final in France.

The FIFA bribery scandal has entangled many individuals in its web. Now it looks like Nike may have been dragged into the alleged “rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted corruption” that US Attorney General Loretta Lynch says has sullied world football for decades.

Nike is not named in the US Department of Justice indictments charging 14 people with racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering conspiracies. The charges allege they participated in a “24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer.” The company has said it has not been accused of wrongdoing.

The Financial Times and Bloomberg have linked Nike with the unidentified “Sportswear Company A” and “Sportswear Company E,” who are listed in the indictments. (The nomenclature is confusing but text of the two separate indictments describes A and E as if they were the same company.)

Those indictments claim the sportswear company, with the help of a mediator — Brazil-based sports marketing company Traffic Group — signed a 10-year, $US160 million deal in 1996 with Brazil’s national football federation CBF to sponsor the Brazilian national football team. Nike signed its long-running partnership with the Brazilian football team in the same year.

Traffic Group has not yet responded to a request for comment from Business Insider.

The indictment says a high-ranking official from CBF and Traffic Group siphoned off millions of dollars from the deal for themselves in bribes and kickbacks.

It also alleges the sportswear company paid $US40 million to Traffic via an affiliate with a Swiss bank account. That, on the surface of it, seems strange. Why pay into an off-shore account — especially in Switzerland, where banks do not share customer information with governments of other countries?

Again, there’s nothing to suggest any wrongdoing on the sportswear company’s behalf. But it is odd.

The indictment doesn’t name Nike. Nor does it accuse Nike of any wrongdoing.

However, worryingly for executives at the sportswear company’s headquarters in Oregon, it does pull Nike into the ever-changing, murky FIFA scandal.

Nike has not responded to a request for comment from Business Insider. However, the company told The Financial Times: “The charging documents unsealed yesterday in Brooklyn do not allege that Nike engaged in criminal conduct. There is no allegation in the charging documents that any Nike employee was aware of or knowingly participated in any bribery or kickback scheme.”

Here’s what happened, according to the indictment:

  • 1994: The Brazilian national football team lifts the World Cup in the USA. At around the same time, a representative from Sportswear Company E approaches CBF to see if it would be interested in sponsorship. At the time, the Brazilian team was sponsored by Umbro.
  • An unidentified high-ranking CONMEBOL (the South American Football Federation) and CBF official, and the founder of Traffic Group José Hawilla (who in December of last year waived indictment and pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, and obstruction of justice), began negotiations with Sportswear Company E.
  • 1996: Discussions finally closed in New York. On July 11, a contract for a $US160 million, 10-year deal was signed between the high-ranking CBF official, Hawilla on behalf of Traffic Brazil, and four members of Sportswear Company E. The sportswear company became a co-sponsor and exclusive footwear apparel, accessories, and equipment supplier.
  • As part of the agreement CBF remitted a percentage of the value of the payments it received from the sportswear company to Traffic Brazil.
  • Sportswear Company E also agreed to pay an affiliate of Traffic with a Swiss bank account an additional $US40 million in compensation, on top of the $US160 million it was obligated to pay to CBF.
  • 1996-1999 Over this period, Traffic invoiced the sportswear company directly for $US30 million in payments.
  • An executive from Traffic “agreed to pay and did pay” the high-ranking official from CBF half of the money he made from the sponsorship deal, “totaling in the millions of dollars, as a bribe and kickback.”
  • 2002 The parties terminated the agreement before the end of the 10-year term.

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