A United States court has granted a two-week extension of the deadline given to the world football body, FIFA, to respond to Samson Siasia’s suit challenging his coach licence ban and indictment for bribery.
PREMIUM TIMES reported that Siasia, who holds dual citizenship in Nigeria and the U.S., filed his suit on August 2, 2021, seeking nullification of both FIFA’s decision and the subsequent review reducing the sanctions.
On August 5, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, issued a summons to FIFA with a 21-day ultimatum to file its answer to the suit.
The 21-day ultimatum, which started counting from August 31 when FIFA was served Mr Siasia’s suit, was due on September 21.
But the court’s records exclusively obtained by this newspaper on Tuesday shows the judge, Alvin Hellerstein, has extended the deadline by two weeks, following an application by FIFA’s lawyers.
Mr Hellerstein rejected Mr Siasia’s objection to FIFA’s request to set a new deadline of October 5.
“The extension is granted. So ordered,” the judge ruled on September 2.
Siasia, a former Super Eagles coach, who had also handled other Nigeria’s national football teams, was convicted by FIFA in 2019 for agreeing to an offer of a coaching job with a match-fixing clause, although the contract failed to sail through negotiations.
The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) in its verdict handed down on August 16, 2019, placed a life ban on his coach licence and awarded a monetary fine of 50,000 Swiss Francs against him.
Following his appeal against the decision, a Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) panel, in its decision handed down on June 21, 2021, reduced the lifetime ban on his coach licence to five years, and dismissed the monetary fine.
The CAS panel partially upheld the guilty verdict as it faulted some fundamental aspects of FIFA’s verdict.
It, for instance, described the lifetime ban with the monetary fine of 50,000 Swiss Francs imposed on Siasia by FIFA, as a cruel and unusual punishment.
The punishment was disproportionate to the alleged offence, the panel added.
Still dissatisfied with the CAS panel’s decision, Siasia filed his suit at the U.S. court seeking an annulment of “the lifetime or any ban” on his coach licence.
He said he was not aware of the bribery charge investigated by FIFA until the verdict imposing a life ban on him was published on August 16, 2019, a claim the CAS agreed to in its review of FIFA’s verdict.
In addition to cancelling his conviction and removing the restrictions clamped on his coach licence, Siasia asked the court to order FIFA to make “global public retraction of guilty verdict of accepting bribe” handed down against him.
Disturbed by the reputational and professional injury the FIFA’s verdict has caused him, Siasia also seeks “compensatory and punitive damages, attorneys’ fees and court costs” in respect of each of the four charges he raised against FIFA.
Why FIFA sought extension
FIFA’s legal team had filed a letter motion dated September 1 asking for an extension of the deadline by two weeks to file its answer to the suit.
Christopher Boehning, FIFA’s lawyer who signed the application, cited “several scheduling conflicts that we have in the next few weeks” among the reasons for asking for the extension.
He also anchored the request on “upcoming holidays of Labour Day, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur”.
According to the defence lawyer, FIFA resorted to filing the request in court after Siasia’s lawyer refused to consent to the extension in a prior conversation with him.
“Plaintiff’s counsel refused, and did not provide a reason as to why he did not consent to our request,” the letter motion read in part.
Siasia had opposed his application with his lawyer, Nitor Egbarin, arguing in a September 1 notice to the court citing various reasons.
“First, the court should deny the motion as it is non-compliant with the court’s individual rule,“ Mr Egbarin wrote in his September 1 reply to FIFA’s request.
He said parties are not permitted to file letter motions and briefs in lieu of formal motions, unless special permission to do so is granted.
He also said his client refused to consent to the extension because the 21 days allowed for “responsive pleadings” were sufficient for FIFA’s legal team to file its response to the suit.
“More significantly, this case was filed on August 5, 2021. Prior to filing the complaint, plaintiff sent the draft complaint to defendant on July 8, 2021, to attempt a pre-litigation resolution of the matter,” he added.
According to him the draft complaint “alleges exactly the same facts and claims in the complaint filed in this case,” but the defendant “ignored the plaintiff”.
By implication, he said, the defendant “was fully aware of the claims in the complaint almost 60 days ago”.
But despite Siasia’s objection, the judge granted FIFA’s application for a two-week extension on September 2.
FIFA now has up till October 5 to file its response to the suit.
Siasia’s travails started when he was approached by a match-fixer, Wilson Perumal, in 2010, offering him a job with an Australian club.
In email conversations between the two of them, Perumal revealed how he intended to run the club fixing matches behind the scene without involving Siasia, who would only be expected to strictly face his job as the head coach.
Despite the match-fixing clauses in the offer, Siasia accepted to play along.
They exchanged 33 emails on the matter, but the contract failed to come to fruition due to the inability of the parties to agree on all the terms proposed by Siasia.
Perumal was later reported to have been arrested by the police in Finland and convicted of bribery and conspiracy to match-fixing.
While cooperating with Finnish prosecutors, the suspect turned over his electronic devices containing contact names and email and text communication to the authorities.
Finnish authorities then turned over the cache of information to FIFA which then went on to convict Siasia based on the email communication between him and Perumal.
In FIFA’s verdict handed down at the end of the case, Siasia, who had at different times handled various Nigerian national teams, was barred from coaching for life.
But the coach licence ban was reduced to a five-year ban, and his initial 50,000 Swiss Francs fine was totally reversed.
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