Convicted Croatia team official keeps World Cup VIP status

A Croatian soccer official will be allowed to watch the team’s World Cup semifinal match from a VIP section despite being convicted last month in a corruption case.

The criminal case hasn’t affected Croatia’s progress to its first World Cup semifinal in 20 years, despite Modric being charged with perjury in March.   -  Getty Images

A Croatian soccer official will be allowed to watch the team’s World Cup semifinal match from a VIP section on Wednesday despite being convicted last month in a corruption case linked to the transfer of captain Luka Modric.

When Croatia beat Russia in the quarterfinals on Saturday, the director general of the country’s soccer federation sat in the same row of seats as Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Damir Vrbanovic has stayed in office since being sentenced in June to a three-year jail term even though FIFA’s disciplinary code bars officials “convicted of a criminal offense in the past five years.”

“The evaluation of the position of the person concerned, then, is made only by its national association according to the applicable national law,” FIFA said in a statement to The Associated Press.

The Croatian federation said any other interpretation would be “unconstitutional and serious violation of his human rights.”

“In accordance to the Croatian and general law, Mr. Vrbanovic is innocent because the relevant judgment is not final and binding,” the soccer body said in a statement to the AP.

The criminal case hasn’t affected Croatia’s progress to its first World Cup semifinal in 20 years, despite Modric being charged with perjury in March.

Defender Dejan Lovren, another former Dinamo Zagreb player, is also under investigation for suspected false statements.

The case relates to alleged embezzlement and tax evasion in Dinamo’s sales of Modric to Tottenham in 2008 and Lovren to Lyon in 2010.

Modric appeared irritated when asked on June 15 in Kaliningrad if the case was a cloud over Croatia's tournament ahead of its opening game against Nigeria.

“Nothing smarter to ask?” Modric said. “It’s a World Cup, it’s not about other things.”

Suker, the star forward in Croatia’s 1998 World Cup team and an elected member of UEFA’s executive committee, has not been implicated. He declined to talk with reporters at a Moscow hotel on Sunday.

UEFA said Wednesday it is awaiting developments to assess Vrbanovic’s role as a member of European soccer’s committee overseeing national team competitions.

FIFA said it is “monitoring the situation concerning Mr. Vrbanovic as it expects all officials and member associations involved in the 2018 FIFA World Cup to abide by the core values of fair play and protect the image of football.”

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