World football federation Fifa has been stripped of all its South African trademarks and is now forced to hand over documents that could expose corruption and millions in kickbacks at the highest levels of government and the country’s local soccer authority.
In a world first, and what could be seen as a precedent-setting court battle, North Gauteng High Court Judge Van der Westhuizen issued an attachment order in favour of former football administrator Leslie Sedibe.
This means Fifa will need to seek Sedibe’s permission to trade in South Africa until such a time as it successfully opposes the order.
Sedibe launched the successful court application in order to force Fifa to review and possibly overturn the five-year ban and fine it imposed on him after finding him guilty of unethical behaviour following investigations into match fixing in three friendlies ahead of the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
At the heart of his application to have Fifa’s trademarks attached is Sedibe’s request of the football body to grant him an opportunity to reopen its probe and grant him an opportunity to present evidence that could exonerate him from wrongdoing.
“The applicant is authorised to attach the trademarks owned, and/or in which the first respondent [Fifa] has a beneficial interest, and all trademarks controlled by the first respondent in terms of Section 41(2) of the Trademarks Act No. 194 of 1993 of the Republic of South Africa …” said Van der Westhuizen in his order on Wednesday.
The bruising court battle levelled against Fifa and the South African Football Association (Safa) by Sedibe will also see the late apartheid struggle veteran Winnie Madikizela-Mandela thrust into the spotlight.
In addition to the evidence presented to court, and central to his case, was a witness statement by Madikizela-Mandela that Sedibe had secured before she died in April.
The City Press has heard a recorded interview wherein Madikizela-Mandela agrees to testify for Sedibe and was shocked that South African football administrators refused to support him, and rather sacrificed him to Fifa’s disciplinary processes without a fair hearing during his tenure as Safa chief executive officer.
Sedibe believes that the resistance to his crusade to clear his name is because some of the information that has been held back could lift the lid on an alleged $10m fee that was paid in the run-up to the 2010 Fifa World Cup, that was apparently unaccounted for.
In 2015 South Africa was placed under investigation for alleged bribery during the adjudication of the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
Fifa found that a $10m bribe was spirited away at Safa’s behest and re-emerged in a development fund in the Caribbean.
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It is understood that law enforcement officials will now also be forced to investigate possible fraud and corruption at Safa relating to match fixing and alleged bribery ahead of the 2010 event.
Sedibe said he found no pleasure in litigating against Fifa, but was left with no option when it was clear that “the cloud they have hanging [over] my head is going nowhere”.
“They are doing this despite overwhelming evidence that they have flouted the law and their own regulations which state that I have the right to have an adverse decision reviewed in the event that new evidence emerges that can have a different outcome,” he said.
In a letter to Sedibe dated February 23 2018 Fifa’s Investigatory Chamber chairperson Maria Claudia Rojas expressly reminded him of Fifa statutes that prohibit members from seeking relief from the football body’s sanctions in “ordinary courts of law”.
“We would like to point that as per art. 13 par. 2 of the Fifa code of ethics, persons bound by this code are obliged, inter alia, to respect Fifa’s regulatory framework to the extent applicable to them. In this respect, we would like to refer you likewise to art. 59 par. 2 of the Fifa statutes, which prohibits the recourse to ordinary courts of law, unless specifically provided for in the Fifa regulations,” said Rojas in her correspondence.
Despite this, Van der Westhuizen went for the jugular, and in a move that will most likely kick Fifa’s legal machinery into action, he further authorised the sheriff of the court to immediately execute the court order.
Fifa has been given 30 days to file its intention to oppose the application.
Sedibe, who has also launched a $5m (R71.3m) lawsuit, said he refused to bullied by Fifa and would not rest until it cleared his name.
“I was treated very unfairly by both Safa and Fifa. All my rights under the South African Constitution were violated by Fifa, which conducted a mockery of an investigation, whose outcome was already predetermined. But I have full confidence in our country’s judicial system. I have faith in God and I have faith that the truth will finally come out and the real culprits will be exposed.
“All that I want is to clear my name and my reputation which has been severely tarnished by Fifa’s tardiness and arrogance,” said Sedibe.
Van der Westhuizen’s ruling has further dealt a devastating blow to Fifa and could open up the soccer body to a barrage of court action from across the world by people who believe they had been unfairly dealt with by the organisation’s adjudicatory chamber of the Independent Ethics Committee.
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