ZURICH (CelebrityAccess) — In two separate investigations, U.S. and Swiss officials have arrested numerous current and former FIFA officials, as well as key figures in sports marketing in the Americas as part of a sweeping probe into more than two decades of alleged corruption at FIFA, World Cup Soccer's governing body.
A 47-count indictment was unsealed on Wednesday morning in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, charging 14 defendants with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies, among other offenses, in connection with the defendants’ participation in a 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer.
The indictment alleges that, between 1991 and the present, the defendants and their co-conspirators engaged in various criminal activities, including fraud, bribery and money laundering. The indictment alleges that soccer officials abused their positions of trust for personal gain, frequently through an alliance with sports marketing executives who shut out competitors and kept highly lucrative contracts for themselves through the systematic payment of bribes and kickbacks. The justice department estimates that the officials in question received well over $150 million in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for their official support of the sports marketing executives who agreed to make the unlawful payments.
The defendants charged in the indictment include high-ranking officials of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the organization responsible for the regulation and promotion of soccer worldwide, as well as leading officials of other soccer governing bodies that operate under the FIFA umbrella. Jeffrey Webb and Jack Warner – the current and former presidents of CONCACAF, the continental confederation under FIFA headquartered in the United States – are among the soccer officials charged with racketeering and bribery offenses. Also charged was Aaron Davidson, the president of U.S.-based soccer events promoter Traffic Sports USA and chairman of the board of the North American Soccer League.
Many of the defendants were arrested by Swiss authorities in Zurich, including Jeffrey Webb, Eduardo Li, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Eugenio Figueredo, Rafael Esquivel and José Maria Marin, at the request of the United States. A search warrant was also executed at the Miami headquarters of CONCACAF, the governing body of Soccer in the U.S.
The arrests occurred just 48 hours before the likely re-election of long-tenured FIFA president Joseph “Sepp” Blatter. Blatter has presided over the organization for 17 years, and has ardently defended FIFA against corruption charges.
“The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States,” said Attorney General Lynch. “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. And it has profoundly harmed a multitude of victims, from the youth leagues and developing countries that should benefit from the revenue generated by the commercial rights these organizations hold, to the fans at home and throughout the world whose support for the game makes those rights valuable. Today’s action makes clear that this Department of Justice intends to end any such corrupt practices, to root out misconduct, and to bring wrongdoers to justice – and we look forward to continuing to work with other countries in this effort.”
For years, FIFA has been plagued by allegations of bribery and corruption, most recently centered on the organization's decision to host the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, a gulf state where temperatures frequently reach 120 degrees during soccer season and which is plagued by numerous reports of human rights abuses of migrant workers working on World Cup facilities. In 2012, FIFA launched an investigation itself into allegations of bid rigging, retaining former United States attorney, Michael J. Garcia to lead the investigation. Garcia spent two years compiling a report, but FIFA only released a summary of the report and Garcia quickly characterized that summary as incorrect and incomplete, claiming that it contained “numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts.” – Staff Writers