Jerome Valcke, Sepp Blatter's long-time right-hand man, was banned from all soccer-related activity for 12 years Friday for misconduct during his term as FIFA secretary general.
Valcke was found guilty by FIFA's ethics committee of wide-ranging offences, including taking private jets for personal use, destroying evidence and trying to force through an undervalued sale of 2018 and 2022 World Cup television rights for the Caribbean.
"Mr. Valcke acted against FIFA's best interests and caused considerable financial damage to FIFA, while his private and personal interests detracted him from his ability to properly perform his duties," the ethics committee said in a statement.
Valcke's ban is four years longer than the eight-year sanctions handed down to FIFA President Blatter and UEFA President Michel Platini in December for a financial conflict of interest.
The ethics judges said Valcke violated seven sections of FIFA's code of ethics, compared to four each by Blatter and Platini, and also fined him 100,000 Swiss francs ($102,500).
The ban is likely not the end of Valcke's legal troubles. He is expected to be asked to give evidence to American and Swiss federal prosecutors investigating widespread corruption in international soccer.
His soccer ban comes one month after the 55-year-old Frenchman was fired by FIFA for a second time in a colorful career. The former television presenter and marketing executive had been suspended last September. The firing was based on an internal report about his conduct, including use of expenses and private jets.
FIFA commissioned that report last year before a 2014 World Cup ticket agent alleged that Valcke sought to profit from a black market deal which later fell through. That allegation, made by ticket agent Benny Alon, prompted Valcke's suspension and the ethics case to be opened.
"During the course of the investigations, several other acts of potential misconduct arose," the ethics judges said.
"By travelling at FIFA's expense purely for sightseeing reasons as well as repeatedly choosing private flights for his trips over commercial flights without any business rationale for doing so, Mr. Valcke gained an advantage for himself and relatives," the statement said.
"It was found that Mr. Valcke attempted to grant the TV and media rights for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups to a third party for a fee far below their actual market value and had taken concrete preparatory action in this regard.' The ethics panel added: "Mr. Valcke deliberately tried to obstruct the ongoing proceedings against him by attempting to delete or deleting several files and folders relevant to the investigation."
Valcke has consistently denied wrongdoing, and can appeal to FIFA and later to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
"With today's decision, the FIFA ethics committee has shown that it is not a credible, independent or objective decision-making body," Valcke's U.S.-based lawyer Barry Berke said in a statement, criticizing an "unjust and politically motivated decision."
"Mr. Valcke is confident that when all the facts come out, it will be clear that he did absolutely nothing wrong in carrying out his duties for the good of FIFA and the sport," Berke said.
Valcke was picked by Blatter as secretary general in 2007, with the main task of overseeing World Cup preparations, months after being fired as marketing director for misconduct in sponsorship negotiations.
A civil suit brought in a Manhattan court by Mastercard – which was ousted as a World Cup sponsor when FIFA signed instead with Visa – cost the scandal-hit soccer body $90-million to settle in 2006.
In Brooklyn, the U.S. Attorney's office is leading an investigation of racketeering linked to senior soccer officials that has implicated Valcke in an alleged World Cup bidding bribery conspiracy.
In 2008, Valcke was asked to sign off on payments totalling $10-million from a FIFA account of money which belonged to South African organizers of the 2010 World Cup.
South African officials asked FIFA to transfer money to the control of then-FIFA vice-president Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago. American prosecutors allege the money was a bribe to three FIFA voters to support South Africa's bid in 2004, and not – as now claimed – to create a legacy fund supporting the African diaspora in the Caribbean.
Switzerland's attorney general is investigating financial mismanagement at FIFA, including during Valcke's tenure, and suspected money laundering during the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests.
Criminal proceedings have been opened against Blatter over his approval of a $2-million payment to Platini in 2011, and the undervalued sale of Caribbean TV rights for the 2010 and 2014 World Cup to Warner.
A spokesman for attorney general Michael Lauber said last month that a whistleblower had helped with the case, and charges could be brought against Blatter within a year.