FBI accuse FIFA of illegal payments, kickbacks, and bribes

Dark clouds over FIFA HQ
Dark clouds over FIFA HQ

Nine Fifa officials stand accused of breeding decades of "rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted" corruption within the scandal-hit world football organisation, the US justice department said.

The Fifa officials, including vice-president Jeffrey Webb and former vice-president Jack Warner, and five others have been charged with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies in connection with an alleged "24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer".

The defendants also include US and South American sports marketing executives who the department said "are alleged to have systematically paid and agreed to pay well over 150 million US dollars in bribes and kickbacks to obtain lucrative media and marketing rights to international soccer tournaments".

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said: "The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States.

"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 organisations 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."

US attorney general Loretta Lynch said organisations involved were entrusted with keeping soccer open and accessible to all.

"They held important responsibilities at every level," she said. "They were expected to uphold the rules that keep soccer honest. Instead they corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their interests and enrich themselves."

She said the 14 defendants included high-ranking officials at Fifa, the international organisation responsible for regulating and promoting soccer.

Events that were influenced by corruption include the award of the 2010 World Cup to South Africa and the 2011 Fifa presidential election, she said.

Chief Richard Weber of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) said: "This is the World Cup of fraud, and today we are issuing Fifa with the red card."

Acting US Attorney Kelly Currie, of the Eastern District of New York, said the corruption conspiracy extended to the decision to make South Africa the hosts of the 2010 World Cup and the Fifa presidential elections in 2011.

He told a press conference: "The World Cup 2010 selection bribery scheme which is described in the indictment alleges that in connection with the selection of South Africa to host the 2010 World Cup, there were bribes paid in connection with that scheme."

He added: "In addition, the 2011 scheme to influence the presidency of Fifa, the Asia Football Confederation, a high ranking official involved in that scheme was involved in paying bribes as part of that Fifa presidential election.

"This sort of bribery and corruption in international soccer has been going on for two decades.

"Our investigation, the hard work that led to the charges here today, that itself took years."

It comes as Swiss authorities announced a separate investigation in to mismanagement and money laundering surrounding the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Seven of the officials, including Webb, were arrested in an early morning raid at a Zurich hotel today carried out by Swiss authorities at the request of the US.

Director James Comey of the FBI said: "As charged in the indictment, the defendants fostered a culture of corruption and greed that created an uneven playing field for the biggest sport in the world.

"Undisclosed and illegal payments, kickbacks, and bribes became a way of doing business at Fifa. I want to commend the investigators and prosecutors around the world who have pursued this case so diligently, for so many years."

In a Fifa press conference in Zurich, the world governing body's director of communications Walter de Gregorio confirmed that Friday's presidency election will go ahead as planned despite today's revelations.

He added that there will also be no redraw of the Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 World Cup wins, despite the separate Swiss investigation in to possible criminal mismanagement of the allocations.

Asked about the US corruption investigation, he said: "For us it's a hard time, it's not nice being here in front of (the media) trying to explain something that is not nice but at the same time for us, for Fifa, this is good, it confirms that we are on the right track.

"It hurts, it's not easy but it's the only way to go. We are ready to go the way we started four years ago and nothing will stop us."

Mr de Gregorio confirmed that Fifa president Sepp Blatter and Fifa secretary-general Jerome Valcke are not involved in the corruption proceedings.

Discussing the upcoming election, he added: "Timing is obviously not the best. Certainly this is a difficult moment for us, Fifa is suffering once again.

"It was never an idea to postpone congress or election. The election will take place as planned."

The guilty pleas of four individual and two corporate defendants were also revealed by the US today including that of Chuck Blazer, the long-serving former general secretary of CONCACAF Champions League.

Mr de Gregorio added that Fifa initiated the investigation about the World Cup bidding process after raising concerns with the Swiss authorities last year and "welcomes" their investigation.

The Swiss police raided the headquarters of Fifa in Zurich today where it gathered data and documents as part of their investigation in to "irregularities" surrounding the major football tournaments.

The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland said the both raids were carried out simultaneously to "avoid any possible collusion".

The chairman of the Football Association, the governing body of football in England, questioned whether Fifa's leadership election should go ahead.

Greg Dyke, who said the FA had nominated rival Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan as the next president, said: "We should stress this morning's developments are very serious for Fifa and its current leadership.

"As one of the associations who nominated Prince Ali, it will not surprise you to learn that if the election for president goes ahead, the FA will be voting for him.

"However, there must be a question mark over whether the election should take place in these circumstances.

"Clearly things are changing very quickly and our delegation to the Fifa congress in Zurich, which I am leading, will discuss the position and what we should do about it with our colleagues in Uefa when we meet tomorrow morning."

Despite years of negative headlines, 79-year-old Mr Blatter is the overwhelming favourite to win a fifth term of office in two days' time.

During Mr Blatter's 17-year tenure there have been numerous corruption allegations surrounding Fifa officials but he still holds the formal backing from the Asian, African and South American confederations.

Jim Boyce, Britain's outgoing Fifa vice-president, said: "This is another sad day for Fifa. I hope the investigations that Fifa have themselves initiated will lead to those individuals - if found guilty of dishonesty and corruption - dealt with in the strongest possible manner by the law authorities."

Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein said: "We cannot continue with the crisis in Fifa, a crisis that has been ongoing and is not just relevant to the events of today. Fifa needs leadership that governs, guides and protects our national associations.
"Leadership that accepts responsibility for its actions and does not pass blame. Leadership that restores confidence in the hundreds of millions of football fans around the world."