At least thirteen soccer officials and marketing executives from the Americas including some of the most powerful regional figures in the sport were named in a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) probe.
According to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, more than $150 million was spent in bribes over a 24-year period involving the awarding of media and marketing rights of soccer tournaments as well as seeking favors for choosing the sites of events like the 2010 World Cup. Other charges against the accused include wire fraud, money laundering and racketeering.
In one example, Lynch described how $110 million in bribes were spent alone on the 2016 Copa America Centenario, a special edition of the traditional South American regional tournament that will involve sides from around the continent and set in the U.S. She also mentioned that bribes made in connection with a "major U.S. sportswear company" who sponsored the Brazilian national team.
“As charged in the indictment, the defendants fostered a culture of corruption and greed that created an uneven playing field for the biggest sport in the world,” said FBI Director James Comey at a DOJ press conference.
“Undisclosed and illegal payments, kickbacks, and bribes became a way of doing business at FIFA,” added Comey.
The DOJ is actively seeking the extradition of those figures named in the indictment though Paraguayan authorities admitted that the possible extradition of ex-South American soccer governing body chief Nicolás Leoz could take months or even years.
Those found guilty of racketeering could face up to twenty years in prison.
Six of those facing criminal charges were arrested in Switzerland this morning and await extradition to the U.S. They include:
- Jeffrey Webb (Cayman Islands) and Jack Warner (Trinidad and Tobago)
- José Maria Marin (Brazil)
- Eduardo Li (Costa Rica)
In addition, five marketing executives from the U.S., Argentina and Brazil are wanted for their role in the corruption probe including the father and son team of Hugo and Mariano Jinkis whose Full Play firm holds the TV rights for most South American national team matches.
Warner proclaimed his innocence and questioned the timing of the arrests and indictment roughly 48 hours before Blatter is expected to easily win reelection. Current CBF president Marco Polo del Nero claimed that any suspicious contracts were signed prior to Marin’s administration. Yet by and large the reaction from most of the Americas has been of disgust and repudiation against the accused.
Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez lambasted his countryman, FIFA Vice President Eugenio Figueredo, who was detained in Zurich. Vázquez’s predecessor, Jose Mujica, claimed that FIFA are led by “a bunch of sons of bitches.”
“They are thieves that deserve to go to prison,” declared former Brazilian soccer great and current legislator Romario.
The DOJ claimed that the opening of today’s indictment is “only the beginning” of their investigation that included raiding CONCACAF headquarters in Miami and could lead to further detentions. At the same time, the Swiss are looking into possible bribery in the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Their work could involve at least one Latin American member of the FIFA executive committee (emphasis ours):
Those are: Issa Hayatou (Cameroon), Vitaly Mutko (Russia), Angel María Villar Llona (Spain), Michel D’Hooghe (Belgium), Senes Erzik (Turkey), Worawi Makudi (Thailand), Marios Lefkaritis (Cyprus), Jacques Anouma (Ivory Coast), Rafael Salguero (Guatemala) and Hany Abo Rida (Egypt). The Swiss attorney general says they’ll be asked about “criminal mismanagement and money laundering”, having seized assorted electronic data and documents from Fifa HQ.The DOJ indictment revealed that four men pled guilty for tax evasion from two of Warner’s sons and Chuck Blazer, the former general secretary of CONCACAF. Blazer has cooperated with the FBI since 2013 including secretly taping conversations with FIFA officials.
Update: A CONMEBOL statement mentions that the group "repudiates" all acts of corruption and pledges to cooperate with investigators. CONCACAF also promises to collaborate "with the authorities to its fullest capacity" and will not postpone or suspend the next edition of the Gold Cup that begins on July 7th.
YouTube Source – Associated Press
Online Sources (English) - U.S. Department of Justice, Reuters, transparencyinsport.org, NBC News, goal.com, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, CONMEBOL, CONCACAF
Online Sources (Spanish) – La Nacion, El Observador, infobae.com, diez.hn, Diario ABC Color
Online Sources (Portuguese) – Globo.com