Former FIFA President Sepp Blatter and two other top officials gave themselves annual raises and World Cup bonuses totaling nearly $80 million over the past five years, according to attorneys working for soccer's governing body.
Blatter, former Secretary General Jérôme Valcke and former Deputy Secretary General and CFO Markus Kattner coordinated to "enrich themselves," according to a FIFA statement detailing the findings of an ongoing investigation by the law firm Quinn Emanuel.
"It is clear that the preliminary findings indicate that the payments and contracts warrant considerable further investigation," the statement read. "FIFA has shared this information with the Office of the Swiss Attorney General and it will brief the U.S. Department of Justice on the matters as well."
The investigators say a series of contract amendments resulted in payouts of tens of millions of dollars in salary and bonuses to the three executives from 2011 to 2015.
The perks also included multimillion-dollar severance packages for Kattner and Valke in case they were ousted if Blatter's 2011 re-election bid failed. It didn't, and Blatter served as FIFA president until he resigned last year.
"They had the authority they needed, and they simply told payroll and HR, the department generally in charge for employment contracts at FIFA and which reported to Mr. Kattner, how much should be paid out and to whom," the statement read.
Most of FIFA's "top brass" were unaware of the contracts and the resulting payments to the three officials, The Wall Street Journal reports. The newspaper adds:
"Investigators didn't connect the alleged bonuses to any legal wrongdoing, but said they would refer the case to FIFA's ethics committee. Some of the clauses related to severance payments may violate Swiss law, they said, but didn't elaborate.
"Some of the contracts for the bonuses paid to Messrs. Blatter and Valcke were discovered in a safe sitting in Mr. Kattner's office at FIFA headquarters in Zurich, according to a person familiar with the investigation. Swiss and American law enforcement have been briefed on the latest findings, investigators said."
Richard Cullen, an attorney for Blatter, told Reuters his client's compensation payments were "proper, fair and in line with the heads of major professional sports leagues around the world."
A person the news service described as close to Kattner similarly said the "information published" by FIFA was not "unknown" to its "compensation committee."
FIFA fired Valcke in January, as the Two-Way reported, after having been suspended "following allegations that he was involved in a scheme to profit from World Cup ticket sales." Kattner's contract was terminated less than two weeks ago "for breaches of his fiduciary duties to FIFA," according to the governing body's statement.
News of the payments comes a day after Swiss authorities searched FIFA's offices in Zurich. Reporting for NPR in Geneva, Lisa Schlein says the raid was part of a criminal probe:
"The office of the Swiss attorney general says the raid was conducted to gather evidence in its ongoing investigations of former FIFA President Sepp Blatter and former Secretary General Jérôme Valcke.
"The office says documents and electronic data it gathered will be examined to see whether they have any bearing on the criminal case against the two men. They are charged with criminal mismanagement of FIFA money.
"The case was opened following a FIFA ethics committee investigation. Both Blatter and Valcke deny any wrongdoing. They've been banned from all soccer-related activities for six and 12 years, respectively."