Argentina tax agency blames late Fifa finance head

Julio Grondona, a former Fifa vice-president and head of finance who ran Argentina’s soccer federation from 1979 until his death last year at 82, will have his assets and estate included in an investigation for possible tax evasion.

Argentina has asked the United States for additional information about three citizens named last week by US justice department officials charged with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering who had dealings with Grondona, referred to as “co-conspirator #10” in the indictment. The tax agency, known as Afip and headed by Ricardo Echegaray, is seeking to collect back taxes for illegal payments.

“We’re going to investigate whichever families or partners we need to, people who have participated in irregular actions,” Echegaray said at a press conference on Tuesday in Buenos Aires. “The public prosecutor is already working on this.”

Fifa on Monday blamed a dead official for authorising a $10-million payment that prosecutors have characterised as a bribe to vote for South Africa as host country for the 2010 World Cup. Delia Fischer, a spokesperson for Fifa, said the payment was authorised by then head of the finance committee, who she didn’t name. Grondona was in charge of that committee at the time of the payment in 2008.

Argentina’s soccer association, AFA, said on Tuesday in a press release it wasn’t involved in any investigation. It made no reference to Grondona.

Grondona is survived by three children. His sons, Julio and Humberto, didn’t reply to telephone calls seeking comment. Humberto was quoted by the Buenos Aires-based newspaper La Nación this week as saying his father was “a stand-up guy” and that “people shouldn’t be disturbed”.

An influential figure in soccer for decades, Grondona was appointed in 1979 as head of the sport in Argentina. A member of Fifa’s governing executive committee since 1988, Grondona was involved in decisions including the selection of World Cup host nations. The most recent choices, Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022), are also being investigated by the US justice department amid allegations of corruption.

Echegaray said last week that he asked Fifa president Sepp Blatter to implement rules to make player transfers more transparent in a bid to correctly tax the million-dollar transfer fees paid to young soccer stars from Argentina.

“This probe is the tip of the iceberg of the corruption that is generally practised in worldwide soccer associations,” Santiago Montoya, a former Argentine tax agency chief who currently advises leading presidential candidate Daniel Scioli, said in a telephone interview. “It will expand to the money laundering associated with the billions of dollars being paid in player transfers in an obscure market governed by Fifa.”

Nicolás Leoz (86), the former head of the South American Football Confederatio, who is wanted by US authorities, is under house arrest in Asunción, Paraguay. – © Bloomberg

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