Football’s global governing body, FIFA, was rocked Wednesday by a massive U.S. federal corruption indictment against current and former top officials and the announcement of a separate investigation by Swiss authorities into allegations connected to the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
Several FIFA officials have been arrested in Zurich.
The U.S. indictment includes 47 counts against 14 people, covering charges of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering, in a scheme that prosecutors said involved sports media executives paying or agreeing to pay more than $150 million in exchange for marketing rights to tournaments.
The Justice Department described it as a “24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer.”
Authorities in Zurich arrested seven FIFA officials Wednesday pending extradition to the United States. U.S. authorities were carrying out more search warrants Wednesday in Miami, and the Justice Department said another four individuals have already pleaded guilty in the case.
US cites ‘rampant’ corruption allegations
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch called the allegations “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted” corruption that “profoundly harmed a multitude of victims.”
“It spans at least two generations of soccer officials who, as alleged, have abused their positions of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks,” Lynch said.
James Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said the system of illegal payments and bribes “became a way of doing business at FIFA.”
In the Swiss case, federal prosecutors said they opened criminal proceedings against a group of individuals suspected of mismanagement and money laundering in connection with awarding the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar.
A statement said authorities had seized data and documents from FIFA headquarters in Zurich.
FIFA’s ethics committee investigated similar allegations, and concluded in November that there were only “limited” ethics breaches and not sufficient evidence of bribery in awarding the tournaments.
‘Difficult’ moment for FIFA
FIFA said it is fully cooperating with both U.S. and Swiss authorities, and that it is in the “highest interest” of the organization that all questions are answered.
Director of Communication and Public Affairs Walter De Gregorio told reporters that the cases mark a “difficult moment” for FIFA, but that there will be no changes to the upcoming tournaments.
“The World Cup in 2018 and 2022 will be played in Russia and Qatar,” he said.
He also said FIFA “initiated” the process and confirmed that FIFA President Sepp Blatter is not involved in either investigation. The executives arrested Wednesday were in Zurich for FIFA meetings that include a presidential vote that could give Blatter a fifth term. His challenger, Jordan’s Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, released a statement saying it was “a sad day for football.”
Top FIFA officials implicated
Those charged in the U.S. case include five corporate executives along with current FIFA Vice Presidents Jeffrey Webb and Eugenio Figueredo; former vice president Jack Warner; executive committee member-elect Eduardo Li and former committee member Nicolas Leoz; development officer Julio Rocha; Olympic tournament organizing committee member Jose Maria Marin; CONCACAF president attache Costas Takkas; and South American football federation president Rafael Esquivel.
Daryll Warn and Daryan Warner, sons of Jack Warner, are among those who have already entered guilty pleas along with Charles Blazer, former CONCACAF general secretary, and Jose Hawilla, founder of the Brazilian sports media company Traffic Group.
In addition to the allegations involving sports marketing bribes, the indictment includes alleged schemes related to bribes and kickbacks related to the Brazilian national soccer federation’s sponsorship by a U.S. sportswear company, the selection of the 2010 World Cup host and the 2011 FIFA presidential election.
(Photo: Juan Carlos Arellano/sxc.hu)