U.S. authorities announced Wednesday in a bad-sports-metaphor-laden news conference that they had charged 14 FIFA officials and sports marketing executives in what one official called the “World Cup of fraud.”
That international soccer’s governing body is corrupt was news to no one. But the indictment unsealed Wednesday in federal court in Brooklyn spelled out in extensive detail exactly how FIFA officials allegedly solicited illegal bribes over the last 24 years. Here’s the information you need to make sense of the latest developments.
U.S. General Attorney Loretta Lynch holds a press conference to announce law enforcement action against FIFA officials.
The indictment alleged that for more than two decades, FIFA officials and sports marketing executives solicited and paid more than $150 million in bribes for personal and commercial gain. The indictment also alleged the defendants worked together to conceal illegal bribes through sham consulting agreements, shell companies, foreign bank accounts and cash smuggling.
The indictment largely traced how bribes were traded for lucrative marketing contracts with various tournaments under FIFA’s umbrella. But defendants also allegedly paid and received bribes in connection with a U.S. sportswear company’s sponsorship of Brazil’s soccer federation, the selection of South Africa as the host for the 2010 World Cup and the 2011 FIFA presidential election. The indictment described this corruption as “endemic.”
Jack Warner, a former FIFA vice president and head of CONCACAF, the body that oversees soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean, made clear just how ingrained corruption was among FIFA officials when he found out that a representative of a Caribbean nation had snitched about $40,000 in bribes allegedly paid out to influence FIFA’s 2011 presidential election.
“There are some people here who think they are more pious than thou,” an angry Warner said, according to the indictment. “If you’re pious, open a church, friends. Our business is our business.”
From top left clockwise: Jeffrey Webb, Jose Maria Marin, Nicolas Leoz, Eugenio Figueredo, Jack Warner and Eduardo Li.
The DOJ’s biggest catch was the current FIFA vice president and head of CONCACAF, Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands.
Swiss authorities on Wednesday arrested Webb at a Zurich hotel along with six other top officials who were indicted in the scheme: Eduardo Li, the head of Costa Rica’s soccer federation; Julio Rocha, a FIFA officer and former head of Nicaragua’s soccer federation; Eugenio Figueredo, a former president of CONMEBOL, the body that oversees soccer in South America; Rafael Esquivel, president of Venezuela’s soccer federation; José Maria Marin, former president of Brazil’s soccer federation; and Costas Takkas, an attaché to CONCACAF President Webb.
Two more defendants charged in the indictment had previously resigned from their positions in international soccer amid bribery allegations. They are Jack Warner of Trinidad & Tobago, mentioned above, and Nicolás Leoz of Paraguay, former FIFA executive committee member and head of CONMEBOL.
Four sports marketing executives, as well as a broadcasting executive who allegedly served as an intermediary for bribery payments, were also charged in the scheme. They are Alejandro Burzaco, Hugo Jinkis, and Mariano Jinkis of Argentina; Aaron Davidson of the U.S.; and José Margulies of Brazil.
Four other men already pleaded guilty in the bribery scheme, including Warner’s sons Daryan and Daryll Warner; Chuck Blazer, a former U.S. representative on the FIFA executive committee; and Brazilian sports marketing executive José Hawilla.
Walter De Gregorio, FIFA Director of Communications and Public Affairs, addresses the media during a press conference at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich.
“FIFA welcomes actions that can help contribute to rooting out any wrongdoing in football,” the organization said Wednesday morning.
But FIFA drew a distinction between the arrests made in connection with the U.S. Justice Departments’s investigation and a simultaneously announced, yet separate, probe opened by Swiss prosecutors. The organization ascribed the arrests to CONCACAF and CONMEBOL, not FIFA, business.
As for the Swiss probe, with which FIFA is cooperating, the organization said “We are pleased to see that the investigation is being energetically pursued for the good of football and believe that it will help to reinforce measures that FIFA has already taken.”
FIFA President Sepp Blatter attends a press conference in Jerusalem.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter, the most powerful person in international sports who’s expected to be elected Friday to a fifth term, was not mentioned in the indictment.
But that doesn’t mean he’s out of the woods. Acting U.S. Attorney Kelly Currie stressed that FIFA was on notice as the investigation was ongoing.
“Today’s announcement should send a message that enough is enough,” Currie said in the DOJ press release. “After decades of what the indictment alleges to be brazen corruption, organized international soccer needs a new start – a new chance for its governing institutions to provide honest oversight and support of a sport that is beloved across the world, increasingly so here in the United States. Let me be clear: this indictment is not the final chapter in our investigation.”
In a press conference announcing the charges, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch declined to say whether Blatter was under investigation.
Blatter released a statement later Wednesday welcoming the law enforcement action and announcing that those charged in the bribery scheme were temporarily banned from the participating in “football-related activities.”
“Let me be clear: such misconduct has no place in football and we will ensure that those who engage in it are put out of the game,” Blatter said. “Following the events of today, the independent Ethics Committee – which is in the midst of its own proceedings regarding the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups – took swift action to provisionally ban those individuals named by the authorities from any football-related activities at the national and international level.”
A general view of a showcase stadium, during the FIFA Inspection Visit for the Qatar 2022 World Cup Bid, in Doha.
In addition to the ongoing U.S. probe, Swiss prosecutors are now investigating the awarding of the 2018 World Cup and the 2022 World Cup to Russia and Qatar, respectively. An internal FIFA investigation cleared the organization of any wrongdoing last fall amid allegations of corruption in the bidding process for those tournaments.
The Office of the Attorney General in Switzerland said in a statement Wednesday morning that it had received documents from FIFA’s Zurich headquarters. The office further planned to question 10 people who served on FIFA’s executive committee in 2010 and voted on the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
Read the full indictment below:
TPM illustration by Christine Frapech. All photos via the Associated Press.