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FIFA officials arrested on corruptions charges filed by U.S. federal court

SeppBlatterFIFA5 (Marca)

By DAN KARELL

After years of accusations of corrupt practices that have put a stain on the global game of soccer, Sepp Blatter’s FIFA appears ready to pay the price for playing dirty.

Officials in Switzerland exercised arrests warrants on Wednesday morning after at least 10 FIFA officials were hit with federal corruption charges from the U.S. government.

According to a report from the New York Times, Swiss law enforcement officers arrived unannounced at the five-star Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich, Switzerland and arrested an undisclosed amount of FIFA officials, with a plan to extradite them to the U.S. Later in the morning, the Swiss Federal Office of Justice confirmed that six officials were arrested on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice, on the suspicion that the officials had received “bribes and kick-backs” from the early 1990s until now, totaling more than $100 million.

A press release put out early Wednesday morning by the U.S. DOJ states that seven officials were arrested in Zurich.

“The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States,” Attorney General Lynch said in a statement. “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.

“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.”

It is believed that as many as 15 arrests have been made around the world in connection with this investigation. Prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York, who brought the charges, unsealed a 47-count indictment early Wednesday morning against 14 individuals, nine of them FIFA officials, including the current and former president of CONCACAF.

The nine indicted FIFA officials include: CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb, former CONCACAF president and FIFA Executive Committee member Jack Warner, Costa Rica FA president Eduardo Li, Nicaraguan FA president and current FIFA development officer Julio Rocha, former general secretary of the Cayman Islands FA Costas Takkas, Uruguayan executive and FIFA ExCo member Eugenio Figueredo, Venezuelan FA president Rafael Esquivel and former Brazilian FA (CBF) president José Maria Marin, and former FIFA ExCo member and CONMEBOL president Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay.

Of those nine, only Warner and Leoz have yet to be arrested. The other seven were arrested in Switzerland, according to the DOJ.

In addition, five sports marketing executives were indicted by the DOJ. They include American president of Traffic Sports USA Inc. Aaron Davidson, Alejandro Burzaco of Argentina, Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, both of Argentina, and José Margulies.

Sepp Blatter is not among the FIFA officials being charged at the moment.

Six defendants had already pleaded guilty in the case to charges ranging from wire fraud to racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, income tax evasion, and more.

Two defendants are the sons of Jack Warner, Daryan and Daryll, both of whom were apprehended by U.S. officials in 2013 and provided testimony crucial to this case.

On November 25, 2013, former CONCACAF general secretary and FIFA ExCo member Chuck Blazer pleaded guilty to ten charges of criminal activity, including “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 paid a fine of $1.9 million when he made his guilty plea and he’s expected to pay another fine in the future, which is to be determined.

Another defendant is Jose Hawilla, the owner and founder of Traffic Group, the Brazilian sports marketing firm that currently owns the CONCACAF television rights in addition to owning three soccer clubs through a subsidiary. Hawilla was ordered to pay a fine of $151 million, of which $25 million has already been paid.

Traffic Sports USA Inc. and Traffic Sports International Inc. were also listed as defendants, and both corporations pled guilty to wire fraud conspiracy.

The DOJ press release adds that the indicted and convicted defendants face a maximum 20-year sentence for “RICO conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering conspiracy, money laundering and obstruction of justice charges.” In addition, Figueredo faces an additional 10-years maximum charge for naturalization fraud and could have his U.S. citizenship revoked.

Blazer, though reportedly terminally ill, faces a maximum sentence of 15 years combined for the FBAR and tax evasion charges.

A large part of the investigation centers around corruption involving CONCACAF, which isn’t a big surprise given the years of allegations waged against Warner and former FIFA executive Chuck Blazer, who is reportedly cooperating with investigators.

The indictment reportedly includes charges against the 10 officials on wire fraud, racketeering, and money laundering.

New U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch previously served as the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, where the Eastern District of New York is based, and she reportedly supervised the prior investigation into FIFA.

The arrests come at a key time for FIFA.

Many of the world’s top soccer officials are convening in Zurich for the annual FIFA Congress. This specific congress is special in that there is a presidential election, and controversial president Sepp Blatter has recanted on his previous promise to only serve four terms, and is looking likely to win a fifth term by a landslide.

The election is set to take place on Friday, May 29.

On Wednesday morning, a FIFA press officer reportedly confirmed that the presidential election will go ahead, and there will not be a re-vote for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, despite Swiss authorities opening a probe against the FIFA World Cup host selections from December, 2010.

In addition, FIFA has been feeling the heat during Blatter’s reign from scandal after scandal rocking the organization from a public relations sense, though it hasn’t hurt them in the pocket book. FIFA most recently reported cash reserves of more than $1.5 billion, despite being listed as a non-profit.

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What do you think of this report? Think FIFA’s leadership will finally be brought to justice after years of corruption, or still see Blatter finding a way out of this mess?

Share your thoughts below.

SeppBlatterConfederationsCup1 (Getty)

Comments

  1. By the way, I love the headline. “Corruptions charges”? “Filed by U.S. federal court”? (Charges are filed *by* the U.S. Attorney *in* U.S. federal court.)

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  2. Am I the only one that finds it ironic that many of us here in America have been clamoring for the World Cup to be taken away from Qatar due to corruption (deservedly so), but then all these arrests by the DOJ happen for corruption dealing with the 2016 Copa America in the United States?

    Uh Oh.

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    • I don’t disagree, but dude– we have no idea where this is really going. Perhaps the Copa 2016 (which, let’s face it, was a big “eff you” to FIFA in the first place) was specifically coordinated with the FBI/DOJ in order to maximize our ability to identify and prove the corruption we all know is happening within FIFA, in a territory we are familiar with and can monitor much more easily. Perhaps the DOJ thinks they can get some of these people to “roll” on the bigger fish within FIFA. Perhaps anything.

      I think this is a great story, but I barely think we have finished the prologue yet. The only real lesson or “news” thus far to me is that the FBI/DOJ are now willing to get involved actively and openly. As for what their ultimate goals are, who knows? We still have no idea what Gulati’s role in any of this is, and whether we are dealing with simple “soccer politics” or something more globally weighty.

      What we “know” is that FIFA’s corruption has been moving off the sports pages and closer to the front pages. Human rights violations, increasingly stern statements from big sponsors, billions of dollars in the balance….

      I’m not even sure who is holding the guns in this standoff right now. But I won’t turn away….

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  3. If FIFA takes any action against the United States because of this, then U.S. Soccer should immediately pull out of FIFA — especially since the vast majority of FIFA’s corporate sponsors are American. If that happens, Germany might do so, as well. If both happen, the avalanche will start and FIFA will be destroyed.

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    • Judging by the comments in a lot of German media (bild, deutsche welle, spiegel) it seems they’re every bit as pissed off as the Brits

      Brazil would be key to any new Fed

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      • I disagree. Europe is the key to any new fed, followed by Brazil and Argentina in equal measure, and then the US… The US may even be more important that Brazil or Argentina due to the simple fact that more people from the USA travel to the world cup than any other country, by a wide margin.

  4. So the lesson is boys, don’t mess with ‘merica.

    Take OUR bribes…er lobbying or we will invade you. Give us all world cups or else.

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  5. Am I the only one sensing irony here? The Koch Brothers have pledged to spend $889 million dollars on our next election cycle. They will pay for everything from small town education boards, to State Representatives, to Congressmen, and even the President of the United States. For those candidates who they don’t contribute cash, they will turn around and run opposition candidates and negative advertising against.

    And, yet, we are the ones who consider taking cash for votes to be illegal? So much so that we send our agents overseas to round up the scoundrels, when we have them right here in Kansas?

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    • Exactly. Too much money in politics, however I don’t see that as a reason to ignore ALL corruption. I would hope that some day the US electoral college, treasury oversight, and political contributions and smear campaigns will get curtailed a bit.

      Reply
    • Top 10 Political Donors in 2014
      Oh they’re not just in Kansas. Just because you don’t agree with someone’s opinions doesn’t make them wrong or corrupt. There are lots of immoral people in the world, Sepp Blatter is one, but listen to others and give an inch. We’d all be better for it.

      1 Steyer, Thomas
      Next Generation San Francisco, CA $73,725,000

      2 Bloomberg, Michael R.
      City of New York, NY New York, NY $28,379,929

      3 Singer, Paul E.
      Elliott Management New York, NY $10,622,824

      4 Mercer, Robert L.
      Renaissance Technologies East Setauket, NY $9,220,000

      5 Ricketts, John Joe
      Hugo Enterprises
      Omaha, NE $8,845,000

      6 Eychaner, Fred Newsweb Corp
      Chicago, IL $8,400,000

      7 Simons, James H. & Marilyn
      Renaissance Technologies/Simons Fdtn
      New York, NY $7,300,000

      8 Adelson, Sheldon G. & Miriam O.
      Las Vegas Sands/Adelson Drug Clinic
      Las Vegas, NV $5,524,236

      9 Koch, Charles G. & Elizabeth B.
      Koch Industries
      Wichita, KS $5,000,000

      10 Uihlein, Richard
      Uline Inc
      Lake Forest, IL $4,676,000

      Reply
  6. Is is how change will ever eventually come to FIFA. It is illegal for US citizens or corporations To bribe foreign officials. We probably won’t get very many of the senior leadership but if the U.S. government shows that it will go after individuals and corporations that bribe officials (which is SOP at FIFA) us corrate te money inn lol forms will flee the organizations. When it starts costing people money things will change.

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  7. Now is the time for a global fan initiative to pressure multi national corporations and the possibility to boycott their products.

    Adidas, Coke, Sony, Budweiser, Emirates, Kia, Visa, Castrol, etc. need to stop their sponsorships of an organization that allows modern day slavery and human trafficking.

    Gulati should’ve been arrested for incompetent as well.

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  8. I cannot believe this day is here! Hooray!

    Of course, FIFA/Blatter will say that the US is banned from competition because governments aren’t supposed to interfere with them, but someone needs to stand up to them.

    Reply
    • Don’t bet on it. We aren’t Sierra Leone. US fans contribute enormous sums to the FIFA coffers. Penalizing the US in this way would be as costly to FIFA as it would to American soccer. Not their style.

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  9. Funny that no one at USSF,…after being around Jack Warner (Blatter’s lap dog) for so long had no idea that this organization was rife with thieves. Sunil,…you have been working with Warner and Blatter for 20+ years (pre-USA ’94),….and you had no idea this was going on? Dude,…your supposed to be the ‘sharpest tool in the shed’! Maybe your just a tool.

    Reply
    • Actually, if you look at the list of the individuals arrested, there are a bunch from the US and then the Caribbean. And this whole process started with Chuck Blazer (who is terminal but seeking to avoid a prison term, has paid one million dollar fine and will face another).

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    • Exactly Joe. Many of this site are ignoring the fact that these initial arrests by the DOJ are for corruption based on the 2016 COPA AMERICA in the USA.

      Hopefully there are more arrests to come and it isn’t just the Americas that come out burned.

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  10. Per State Dept., one of the nine Fifa officials and five executives indicted is no other than Aaron Davidson, ID’d by the Feds as CEO of Traffic Sports. NASL fans may recognize him…

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  11. Man, I was hoping to become a corrupt FIFA official. Now I’ll have to stay a heartless, soulless, amoral contraband arms dealer. Ugh.

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  12. In my crazy head I imagine all these people being dragged into a private room, then Bill Clinton steps in backed by some huge secret service dudes. Bill then proceeds to kick the sh1t out of all of them saying, “i attached my name to that World Cup bid and i dont like to lose. This is what happens when you f*ck over the former leader of the free-world!”

    Reply
    • I see Bill Clinton dragging people into a private room; then coming in thru the side door w/shirt untucked, cigar hanging out his mouth, a little whiskey drunk, and saying “boys, she’ll be right with you. She was fantastic. Pay her well and enjoy.”

      Reply
  13. In other news, FIFA has announced the head referees for the USA’s 2018 group stage games:

    Match 1: Koman Coulibaly
    Match 2: Yuichi Nishimura
    Match 3: Baldolermo Toledo with a Swiss passport

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  14. When our Justice Department is concerned about FIFIA you know that big money and deep pockets are involved. Probably not the trumpet that the soccer community wanted announcing our arrival as a serious soccer nation, but one nonetheless!

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  15. Anyone think it’s coincidental that this came after Zelalem was cleared but before the General Election? Would not be surprised at all if US Soccer (I’ll leave names out of this post) is cooperating with the FBI’s and USAO’s investigation.

    Reply
    • Not that surprising considering he recently just said taking any action wasn’t worth risking getting a World Cup.

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    • He is. 1/2 of those arrested are from the US and Caribbean. Which is really smart. It means that its really hard for Blatter (or others) to argue that this is just the US being a sore loser for not getting the WC. Also, you start with those who are most vulnerable and use your leverage against them to get evidence.

      I believe this all started with Chuck Blazer (who as turned states evidence, paid one fine, will pay another). And that led to the Concacaf changes. And that led to this.

      Reply
    • It is disheartening to see Webb as one of those indicted. He ran on a reform ticket. i was hoping he would clean up CONCACAF.

      My concern is that the US indictments are against CONCACAF and CONMEBOL and not bigger fish in FIFA or UEFA, or even Asia/Africa.

      Reply
      • The Swiss are going to need to handle the “bigger fish” in Fifa. The DOJ here in America was able to bring charges on crimes that somehow came through the U.S. Concacaf is based in Miami. That’s why the DOJ arrests concerned Concacaf members and Conmebol members that did business here relating to the 2016 Copa America in the US.

  16. Damn it, they couldn’t wait till the U-20’s had finished their run in the U20 WC in New Zealand??
    Fire Loretta!!

    Reply
      • Obviously for dissent or perhaps DOGSO (by fielding 11 players the US is denying the opposition obviously goal scoring opportunities that would be there if they only fielded 8 or 9 players). It’s an easy call and I can’t see why referees have failed to make it in previous matches.

  17. See what happens when you rattle the hornet’s nest? Qatar and Russia’s money isn’t worth a damn thing anymore!

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  18. So what happens when Blatter comes away unscathed? Will he invoke some ridiculous FIFA non-tampering law to ban all US teams from FIFA competition? If a government messed with its country’s FA, FIFA takes those measures. Can only imagine what desperate attempt he’ll make in his (hopefully) final days at FIFA.

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      • No. The long boot of American justice kicked FIFA’s ass from across the pond. World soccer will not suffer. If anything comes from this at all, it will be positive.

        Just yesterday, the head of Ireland’s FA said he will not be voting for Blatter due to blatant corruption. He had the nuts to speak up, but most European FAs do not. If this investigation sheds light on the cesspool that is FIFA, guarantee we’ll see more and more FAs speaking out. Those who do not speak out may just have something to hide*.

        *Apologies for sounding a bit McCarthiyist right there. FIFA is one of the few instances that warrants boundless paranoia.

    • If you wanted to bring down Sepp Blatter, this is EXACTLY the strategy to do it.

      First, you arrest underlings. And you tell them “first one to talk, gets a lower sentence. First one to give us Sepp’s head on a platter gets a ‘get out of jail free’ card.” Someone will talk. If nothing else, you’ll get access to emails, texts, expense reports. You’ll build the case against Blatter.

      Second, Blatter is up for election. The best way to bring him down is to get him out of office (so he can’t use the powers of FIFA to bribe votes and officials). And once he’s out of office, people will turn on him like sharks sensing blood in the water. He has very few people in FIFA who are his friend. He has many people in FIFA who fear him and fear his retribution. Get him out of office and that changes.

      Reply
      • Exactly, Joe W. The strategy is to squeeze these mid-level executives and hope they cut deals, bolstering the DoJ’s potential prosecution of Blatter.

        Blatter should be extremely worried. Before this, he was reportedly afraid to travel to America, hoping that staying in Switzerland would protect him. But now that the Swiss are cooperating, he could face extradition to the States.

      • He’s probably far more likely to face charges in Switzerland than in the US at this point. In order for the US to charge him, he would probably have had to use US banks or email servers. I’ll bet he wasn’t doing that. That’s why he was avoiding the US.

        He would have a very hard time getting away from charges in Switzerland though.

    • I’m going on record, I’ll bet anyone $50 says that Blatter will win reelections and come through without any charges. Any takers?

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      • My wife gets mad when I waste my money, so no–“I’m not taking that bet”.

        Not unless you give me two years and a 3-1 payout.

      • I’m not taking that action….. getting Blatter willl be almost impossible. He is too clever and honestly I don’t think he’s at a point in his career where personally participating in petty bribery is even something he engages in much (if at all).

        Does he enable a system of corruption? Certainly, it would appear that way, to even casual observers. But proving this and indicting him will be much more difficult than simply whacking Jack Warner (again).

    • If Blatter comes away unscathed, he would find it very easy to cause trouble for the US fed.

      All he has to do is require the USSF adopt pro/rel if they want to be a FIFA sanctioned league. No more American Exception. Then sit back and watch the fireworks

      It could be a crazy couple of years

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    • We are all operating under the assumption that Blatter himself did not himself instigate this situation…. yet it’s easy to see the benefit he might reap from throwing a few individuals such as Jack Warner whom he (and everyone) already knew to be guilty of corruption/bribery under the bus in order to give the impression that FIFA itself is making a genuine effort to “cleanse” the organization.

      Last I checked, getting people extradited from Switzerland was no easy task. Hard to imagine it could’ve been done without Blatter’s knowledge (and/or support).

      Bottom line– we don’t know much right now about the actual long-term strategy of the DOJ in this matter. Or FIFA, for that matter. It’ll be an intriguing story for months to come.

      But for those worried about Blatter coming after the USSF or American soccer….. I wouldn’t lose a wink of sleep over it. If it’s one thing FIFA loves, it’s money. And we are the single biggest growth market on the radar. He won’t lay a hand on the golden goose.

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