Several top officials at FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, were hit with corruption charges on Wednesday.
Authorities showed up to a five-star hotel in Zurich, Switzerland, where FIFA was having its annual meeting, to make the arrests.
In an extensive statement, the US Department of Justice accused the officials of a “24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer.” The DOJ’s indictment charges 14 defendants with racketeering, wire fraud, money-laundering conspiracies, and other offenses. The charges relate to more than $US150 million in alleged bribes and kick-backs from the 1990s to today.
Swiss authorities announced on Wednesday that they had launched their own investigation independent of the DOJ case. Swiss prosecutors said they had opened criminal proceedings into the awarding of the next two World Cups — the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Rumours of improper dealmaking have long swirled around FIFA and many observers weren’t surprised by the charges of alleged corruption.
Alexandra Wrage, a governance consultant who has previously worked with FIFA, told The New York Times that the organisation is “byzantine and impenetrable.”
Here’s a rundown of both investigations:
- The DOJ said in an extensive statement about its investigation that it believes FIFA officials conspired to “solicit and receive well over $US150 million in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for the official support of sports marketing executives,” who allegedly “shut out competitors and kept highly lucrative contracts for themselves through the systematic payment of bribes and kickbacks.”
- The DOJ explained how this works: “One key way the enterprise derives revenue is to commercialize the media and marketing rights associated with soccer events and tournaments. [FIFA and CONCACAF, the governing body of soccer in North America and the Caribbean] sell them to sports marketing companies, often through multi-year contracts covering multiple editions of the tournaments. The sports marketing companies, in turn, sell the rights downstream to TV and radio broadcast networks, major corporate sponsors and other sub-licensees who want to broadcast the matches or promote their brands.”
- The indicted defendants include nine FIFA officials and four sports marketing executives.
- Former FIFA Executive Committee member Chuck Blazer reportedly helped the FBI build its case against the defendants. He has pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, income tax evasion and failure to file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR).
- Blazer was the right-hand man of one of the defendants, former FIFA vice president Jack Warner. Blazer reportedly knew about some shady deals Warner was involved in and was suspected of laundering money from FIFA himself.
- The Swiss investigation into two upcoming World Cup tournaments is independent of the one by the US Attorney’s office. In the Swiss case, FIFA is considered the injured party. There’s been speculation that bribes or other unethical actions might have influenced the awarding of tournaments.
- The 2018 and 2022 World Cups will reportedly proceed as planned.
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