The US Department of Justice arrested nine FIFA officials and five sports marketing executives on bribery and corruption charges in a dramatic raid in Zurich on Wednesday.
The indictment alleges corporate executives paid bribes and kickbacks to FIFA officials in exchange for the media and marketing rights to tournaments in North and South America.
According to the DOJ, most of the major continental tournaments in the Concacaf (North America) and CONMEBOL (South America) regions in the last 20 years were associated with bribery.
In a statement, Attorney General Loretta Lynch called FIFA’s alleged corruption “rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted.”
At 164 pages, the indictment depicts a system where soccer officials would rise to power, sell media and marketing rights to certain tournaments to marketing companies, and then solicit bribes from people associated with those companies every time a new tournament rolled around. It also contains some allegations related to the 2010 World Cup and 2011 FIFA presidential election.
Here are the most damning allegations:
- The sports marketing company Datisa allegedly agreed to pay $US110 million in bribes to CONCACAF and CONMEBOL officials for four Copa America tournaments between 2015 and 2019, including the 2016 Copa America Centenario (which will take place in the US and include North American teams).
According to the DOJ, Datisa — a new company jointly owned by three existing sports marketing groups from across the region — agreed to pay $US20 million in bribes to 11 CONMEBOL officials for each edition of the tournament.
The indictment claims, “Each $US20 million payment was to be divided among the bribe recipients as follows: $US3 million to each of the ‘top’ three CONMEBOL officials (the president of the confederation and the presidents of the Brazilian and Argentinian federations); $US1.5 million to each of the seven other CONMEBOL federation presidents; and $US500,000 to an eleventh CONMEBOL official.”
More from the indictment:
- Former Concacaf president Jack Warner allegedly bought a condo in Miami in 2005 with money from a Concacaf-affiliated fund that was partially supported by FIFA’s Financial Assistance Programme.
- Warner organised a special meeting of Caribbean soccer officials in Trinidad and Tobago before the FIFA presidential election in 2011. At the meeting, FIFA presidential candidate Mohamed Bin Hammam (identified in the indictment as Co-Conspirator #7) talked to the meeting and said he wanted their support. After the meeting, Warner allegedly told the officials they could pick up a “gift” at the hotel’s conference room later. In the conference room, the indictment alleges, was an envelope filled with $US40,000 for each official provided by Bin Hammam.
- After agreeing to sell the rights to the 1993, 1995, and 1997 Copa Americas to the company Traffic Brazil, former CONMEBOL president Nicolás Leoz allegedly refused to show up at a ceremony to sign the contract. In a meeting afterward, the DOJ says “he did not think it fair that he did not also make money” and solicited a six-figure bribe from Traffic founder Jose Hawilla (identified as Co-Conspirator #2 in the indictment).
- Leoz took bribes from Hawilla until the company lost the Copa America rights in 2011, the DOJ alleges, by which time his payments had ballooned to the seven figures.
- Hawilla allegedly paid the Argentinian football federation “tens of millions of dollars per edition of the Copa America” in exchange for Argentina guaranteeing to use their best players.
- Jack Warner was one of three executive committee members who accepted a $US10 million payment on the behalf of the Caribbean Football Union from the South African bid committee to “support the African diaspora,” according to the indictment, before the vote for the 2010 World Cup. Warner allegedly diverted some of the money to himself, and paid fellow Concacaf executive Chuck Blazer (identified as Co-Conspirator #1) $US750,000 million.
- Before that, Warner allegedly once instructed a family member to fly to Paris, pick up a briefcase full of $US10,000 stacks of money provided by a South African bid committee official, and then fly back to Trinidad and Tobago a few hours later.
Harwilla pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, and obstruction of justice and agreed to forfeit $US151 million, according to the DOJ. Blazer and Warner’s two sons also pleaded guilty to corruption charges.
Traffic Sports USA, Inc., and Traffic Sports International, Inc. pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy.
In a statement to the Trinidad Daily Express, Warner said, “I have been afforded no due process and I have not even been questioned in this matter. I reiterate that I am innocent of any charges.”
A FIFA spokesperson welcomed the DOJ’s investigation, saying it was a “good day” for FIFA. Their full statement:
FIFA welcomes actions that can help contribute to rooting out any wrongdoing in football. We understand that today’s actions by the Swiss Federal Office of Justice on behalf of the US authorities and the Swiss Office of the Attorney General (initiated by FIFA through the submission of the file on the 2018/2022 FIFA World Cup bidding process) relate to different matters.
Firstly, the arrest of six individuals this morning in Zurich concerns investigations by the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of the State of New York. The Swiss authorities, acting on behalf of their US counterparts, arrested the individuals for activities carried out in relation with CONCACAF and CONMEBOL business.
The second instance follows FIFA’s initiative of presenting the file on the 2018/2022 FIFA World Cup™ bidding process to the Swiss Office of the Attorney General in November 2014. The authorities are taking the opportunity of the FIFA Congress to interview those FIFA Executive Committee members who are not Swiss residents who voted back in 2010 and are still in office.
Today, the Swiss Office of the Attorney General announced that it has opened criminal proceedings against persons unknown in relation to the 2018/2022 FIFA World Cup™ bidding process. FIFA is fully cooperating with the investigation and is supporting the collection of evidence in this regard. As noted by the Swiss authorities, this collection of evidence is being carried out on a cooperative basis.
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.
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