Romanian Football Federation faces bankruptcy over €225mn fine

Romanian Football Federation faces bankruptcy over €225mn fine
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest June 14, 2016

A Romanian court has ruled that the Romanian Football Federation (FRF) and the Professional Football League (LPF) have to pay over RON1bn (€225mn) to the now defunct Universitatea Craiova football club, after its membership in the two organisations was terminated in 2011.

The decision is not final and can be appealed. However, if upheld, the fine would send the FRF into bankruptcy, since its budget last year was only €15mn.

The FRF manages football activity in Romania, including the country’s national team, which is currently competing in the Euro 2016 championship. LPF is an association of football clubs and has an even smaller budget.

“All football would end in Romania, if the decision is made final,” FRF advisor Andrei Vochin commented to Gazeta Sporturilor.

The dispute between Universitatea Craiova, a professional football club from the town of Craiova, and the associations started in 2011, when the club’s management fired its coach Victor Piturca.

Piturca, helped by FRF officials, asked for compensation from Universitatea, but the request was turned down by the club, which said it was inappropriate. In turn, Universitatea accused Piturca of founding an organised criminal group along with FRF members.

Universitatea was temporarily excluded from the FRF in July 2011 for taking the case to court, as the FRF claimed it should have been handled within the association. The FRF’s board, which includes LPF members, voted for the termination of Universitatea’s membership after the club refused to withdraw its court cases against the FRF. The following May, Universitatea was disaffiliated by the FRF.

After this, Universitatea was shut down and its players were free to move to other teams. Universitatea previously became the first Romanian football team to reach the semi-finals of a European tournament, during the UEFA Cup in 1982-1983.

After the fall of communism, professional football in Romania has been plagued by corruption and tax evasion. Very popular players such as FC Barcelona’s former captain Gica Popescu, not to mention so-called “investors” or “financiers” of football clubs like the Becali cousins, have served years in prison for undeclared revenues. Only recently, as part of a broader national anticorruption campaign, have FRF head Mircea Sandu and LPF head Dumitru “Mitica” Dragomir left their positions after they virtually controlled Romanian football, including the national teams, for decades.

As well as the fines imposed on the two associations, Sandu and Dragomir were both given three year suspended sentences.

The FRF said in a June 13 statement that it is not liable for the decisions taken by its former leadership. The decisions were individual decisions made by Sandu, the federation claimed, saying that the court’s ruling should be enforced only on the individuals. Sandu stepped down from the FRF presidency in 2014 after heading the federation for 24 years, but remains honorary president and receives an annual €75,000 per year plus lifetime benefits.

The National Anticorruption Directorate, which initiated and investigated the case, also objected to the verdict, which it said was too lenient. It says it will appeal and ask for prison terms for those responsible.