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Fifa officials corrupted football - US prosecutors
May 28, 2015, 11:21 am
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US prosecutors have accused several officials from football's governing body Fifa of racketeering, fraud and money laundering involving tens of millions of dollars over 24 years. Prosecutors said they had discovered a dozen schemes, including one awarding the 2010 World Cup to South Africa. Fourteen people have been indicted, with seven held in Zurich on Wednesday. Fifa president Sepp Blatter, who is not among them, issued a statement vowing to kick out corrupt officials.

Fifa also announced a "swift and immediate provisional ban" from football-related activity on 11 of the people involved in the US prosecution. Fifa says it still intends to hold its presidential election on Friday. Mr Blatter is favoured to win a fifth term. 

However, European football body Uefa has called for the election to be postponed and said it would decide on Thursday whether to boycott the congress. Swiss prosecutors have also opened a separate investigation into the bidding process for the World Cup tournaments in 2018 in Russia and 2022 in Qatar.

'Over and over'

Those indicted in the US case are accused of accepting bribes and kickbacks estimated at more than $150 million (£97 million) over a 24-year period beginning in 1991. Spelling out details of the US case, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said some Fifa executives had "used their positions to solicit bribes. They did this over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament".

"They corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their interests and to enrich themselves." One of the seven arrested in Zurich is Jeffrey Webb, current Fifa vice-president and head of the Concacaf federation that serves North and Central America.

The others arrested were Eduardo Li, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Eugenio Figueredo - also a vice-president - Rafael Esquivel and Jose Maria Marin. Six of the seven are contesting extradition to the US, Swiss authorities say.

Jack Warner, a former Fifa vice-president, is accused of soliciting $10 million in bribes from South Africa's government over the hosting of the 2010 World Cup. After a warrant was issued for his arrest, Mr Warner turned himself in to authorities in Trinidad, and was released on bail of $2.5 million (£1.63 million). Mr. Warner had issued a statement saying he was innocent of any charges. If convicted on racketeering charges, the defendants could face up to 20 years in prison.

Ms Lynch said the charges included:

  • receiving bribes to award media and marketing rights to football tournaments
  • receiving bribes to influence the decision of where tournaments should be hosted - including the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and the 2016 Copa America in the US
  • racketeering - organised illegal activity
  • money laundering
  • wire fraud - or obtaining money by fraudulent means

Ms. Lynch said the forthcoming Fifa election had played no part in the timing of the indictments, and that although Fifa had a "lot of soul searching to do", US law officials were not looking to have "an impact on the decisions" Fifa needed to make in the future.

However, Acting US Attorney for New York eastern district Kelly Currie warned this was the "beginning, not the end, of the investigation". Four individuals, including Chuck Blazer and Daryll Warner - Jack Warner's son - and two companies have already pleaded guilty. Mr. Blazer, the former top American official at Fifa, has been a co-operating witness for the FBI since he quit football in 2013. The US officials said there were no allegations that any football matches were affected by the alleged corruption.

Mr. Blatter said he welcomed the investigations by the US and Swiss authorities. He said this was "a difficult time for football, the fans and for Fifa as an organisation... such misconduct has no place in football and we will ensure that those who engage in it are put out of the game".

Many have wondered how Sepp Blatter can have been in charge of Fifa for so long amid so many reports of corruption and yet remain, apparently, untouched. One Swiss newspaper jokingly called him "the dark prince of football, the godfather, Don Blatterone" - but no inquiry has ever revealed proof of his involvement in corruption.

Some old friends describe Mr Blatter as down-to-earth and open. Others who have worked with him say he is a man who resents opposition, pointing to the swift departure of Fifa colleagues who dared to question him. What emerges, finally, is a man who both critics and supporters say cannot imagine his life without Fifa, a man whose tenure as president has outlasted three marriages.

In the second case, Swiss prosecutors opened criminal proceedings "against persons unknown on suspicion of criminal mismanagement and of money laundering in connection with the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 football World Cups". Swiss police said they would question 10 Fifa executive committee members who participated in the votes that selected Russia and Qatar in December 2010. Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said the investigation would not affect its hosting of the 2018 event, telling Associated Press: "We've got nothing to hide."

The Russian foreign ministry added that the US investigation appeared to be an "illegal extraterritorial application" of US law.
 

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