FIFA Officials Arrested On Racketeering, Bribery, Money Laundering Charges

The world’s most prominent soccer organization has been rocked this morning with the arrest in Switzerland of multiple officials of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and several allied businesses on charges that include racketeering, bribery, wire fraud and money laundering. The Justice Dept. claims the defendants have been enriching themselves through corruption for more than two decades.

Among those charged today were Jeffrey Webb, a FIFA VP and the current president of CONCACAF, the soccer group’s governing body for North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. He was one of the seven defendants arrested earlier this morning. Webb’s predecessor, Jack Warner, has also been charged. Meanwhile, a search warranted has been executed at CONCACAF offices in Miami.

FIFA and its multiple subsidiary bodies rake in billions of dollars each year in revenue from from media and marketing rights associated with its events, especially tournaments like CONCACAF’s Gold Cup and the FIFA World Cup.

According to the DOJ, since 1991, the defendants and their co-conspirators engaged in fraud, bribery and money laundering for personal gain by allegedly making deals with sports marketing executives who paid bribes and kickbacks to keep their competitors from involvement in FIFA events.

The FIFA officials involved in today’s announcement allegedly received more than $150 million in illegal payments from these executives. While most of the schemes detailed in the indictment involve kickbacks related to CONCACAF and CONMEBOL (FIFA’s South American governing body) tournaments, there are also allegations of illegal influence in the selection of South Africa as the host country for the 2010 World Cup.

A handful of defendants have already entered guilty pleas, some going back as far as July 2013. Those were unsealed today. These include Charles Blazer, a former CONCACAF general secretary and a former FIFA executive committee member, who pleaded guilty to a 10-count information charging him with racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, income tax evasion and failure to file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts. He forfeited over $1.9 million at the time of his plea and has agreed to pay a second amount to be determined at the time of sentencing.

The owner and founder of the Traffic Group, the Brazilian sports marketing conglomerate, pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and obstruction of justice. He agreed to forfeit over $151 million, $25 million of which was paid at the time of his plea.

Defendants in the indictment face maximum jail terms of 20 years for the alleged RICO conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering conspiracy, money laundering and obstruction of justice charges.

“The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch. “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 organizations hold, to the fans at home and throughout the world whose support for the game makes those rights valuable.”

FIFA has come under fire in recent years over rumors of graft and corruption, and for exerting too much influence in the areas where it hosts the World Cup. For example, during the most recent Cup, FIFA convinced Brazil to change a law banning the sale of alcohol at soccer games so that it could continue to reap advertising revenue from Budweiser.

More controversial is the upcoming 2022 tournament in Qatar, which have been heavily criticized for taking place in a country with a horrendous human rights record, especially with regard to women and the migrant workers who are constructing the many venues needed to host the World Cup. Groups have called for sponsors of the World Cup to pull out of their backing of the Qatar games, but so far big-name brands like Visa and Coca-Cola have decided to remain involved.

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