The United States Department of Justice brought charges on racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering on 14 FIFA and sports marketing officials. Dubbed the “World Cup of corruption” by Richard Weber, chief of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation unit, the charges are the result of an investigation from the U.S. District Attorney’s office in Eastern New York.
In a press conference on May 27, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch laid out charges against top football officials, who used the United States financial system to distribute a series of bribes and kickbacks to manipulate marketing rights contracts for international soccer tournaments such as the Gold Cup and the Copa America. The investigation was conducted by the DOJ, IRS, and Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Executives from the Confederation of North American, Central American and Caribbean Association Football, and the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) were arrested early on May 27 in Switzerland per the request of the DA’s office. The United States is working with Switzerland to extradite seven of those arrested to U.S. soil to be tried.
The arrests were made as Swiss officials announced an investigation into corruption during the votes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup. The two investigations are independent of each other, and Lynch said the timing of the United States investigation had no bearing on the Swiss announcement.
“They were expected to uphold the rules that keep soccer honest and protect the integrity of the game,” Lynch said in her press conference.
“Instead, they corrupted the worldwide business of soccer to enrich themselves.”
Forty-seven total charges are being brought forth against the 14 officials, in what Lynch called “at least two generations of soccer officials” involved in the corruption starting in 1991.
“CONCACAF and CONMEBOL [leaders] used their positions to trust within organizations to solicit bribes from sports marketers for the rights to their tournaments,” Lynch said.
Two specific instances of corruption were mentioned by Lynch in the press conference: the marketing rights for the 2016 Copa America Centenario and the hosting of the 2010 World Cup.
In both scenarios, bribes were given to FIFA officials from sports marketing agencies to ensure that events played out as they did to benefit the agencies in charge of distributing sponsorship and broadcast rights for each. Lynch said that in the case of the 2016 Copa America, the first to be held outside of South America, around 110 million dollars in bribes were linked with the planning of the event.
The list of those indicted includes CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb, previous CONCACAF president Jack Warner, former CONMEBOL presidents Eugenio Figueredo and Nicolás Leoz, former Brazilian Football Confederation president José Maria Marin, and more.
Executives from four sports marketing firms Torneos y Competencias S.A., Traffic Sports USA, Full Play Group S.A., and Valente Corp., were indicted.
Four individuals and one company, including former secretary general of CONCACAF Chuck Blazer, had pled guilty to charges in 2013 and assisted the FBI and DOJ with the investigation.
Lynch said that search warrants were being executed on the offices of CONCACAF, located in Miami, Florida, at the time of the press conference. Earlier reports from the day showed FBI officers removing boxes of evidence from the offices in Florida.
“If you touch our shores with your corruption, you will be held accountable for this corruption,” James B. Comey, FBI Director, said at the press conference. “No one is above the law. The work will continue until all the corruption is uncovered”.