Seven FIFA officials were arrested today in Zurich, Switzerland, on behalf of the United States Department of Justice on charges that include racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering.
U.S. Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, revealed on Wednesday the 47-count indictment against 14 people including FIFA high-ranking officials and sports marketing executives who allegedly paid bribes and kickbacks to obtain media and marketing rights.
Along with the announcement came a promise that the charges announced today is just the beginning, raising speculation that the Department of Justice has its sights on FIFA’s President Sepp Blatter.
“The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States,” said Ms. 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.”
According to the BBC, the seven individuals arrested today, include:
- Jeffrey Webb (Cayman Islands), current FIFA vice president and executive committee member and president of Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF)
- Eduardo Li (Costa Rica), current FIFA executive committee member-elect, CONCACAF executive committee member and president of Costa Rica’s soccer federation (FEDEFUT)
- Eugenio Figueredo (USA, Uruguay), current FIFA vice president and executive committee member; former CONMEBOL president and Uruguayan soccer federation (AUF) president
- Rafael Esquivel (Venezuela), current CONMEBOL executive committee member and president of the Venezuelan Football Federation (FVF)
- Jose Maria Marin (Brazil), current member of the FIFA organizing committee for the Olympic football tournaments; former president of the Brazilian Football Federation (CBF)
- Julio Rocha (Nicaragua), current FIFA development officer and former Central American Football Union (UNCAF) president and Nicaraguan soccer federation (FENIFUT) president
- Costas Takkas (United Kingdom), current attaché to the CONCACAF president and former CIFA general secretary
Another 4 individual defendants pleaded guilty and waived indictments, and two corporate defendants also pleaded guilty.
In the wake of the arrests, FIFA released this statement:
“FIFA welcomes actions that can help contribute to rooting out any wrongdoing in football,” the statement reads in part. “We are pleased to see that the investigation is being energetically pursued for the good of football and believe that it will help to reinforce measures that FIFA has already taken.”
FIFA’s President Sepp Blatter, also released a statement:
“Let me be clear: such misconduct has no place in football and we will ensure that those who engage in it are put out of the game,” said Mr. Blatter. “We will continue to work with the relevant authorities and we will work vigorously within FIFA in order to root out any misconduct, to regain your trust and ensure that football worldwide is free from wrongdoing.”
FIFA’s Director of Communications and Public Affairs Walter de Gregorio, answered questions from the press today following the arrests:
FIFA’s cavalier attitude that it welcomed the clean sweep done today by the U.S. Justice Department is really a front and really disgusting. And as a football fan, it’s hard not to feel vindicated after seeing FIFA’s top dogs treated like mafiosos, so I will try to keep it objective.
That FIFA had a corruption problem spanning decades was hardly news to soccer fans. But for the U.S. Justice Department to lead the effort to investigate and to actually indict and arrest these individuals was startling and it must have come as a big shock for FIFA officials.
The irony is not only that the U.S.– a country notoriously disinterested in football– was the “hero” that came to save the integrity of the sport, but also that Mr. Blatter had the audacity to praise FIFA’s “independent” Ethics Committee decision to “provisionally ban those individuals named by the authorities from any football-related activities at the national and international level.”
The independence of FIFA’s ethics committee has been in question at least since December of last year, when Michael Garcia resigned his post as FIFA’s chief ethics investigator in protest after a summary report based on a 450-page report he wrote on an investigation he conducted into the 2018 and 2022 bidding race was misrepresented by FIFA’s ethics committee chief judge Hans-Joachim Eckert.
FIFA never publicly released the report.
The only thing that Mr. Blatter can do to save what is left of his and the organization’s integrity is to resign. No one trusts him to root out corruption within FIFA because, despite the lack of hard evidence, the public’s perception is that he is in too deep.
Highlighting anything done by FIFA’s questionable and shady “independent” ethics committee is counterproductive at this point.
And to top it off with a cherry, Mr. de Gregorio said the vote for president will still take place as previously scheduled on Friday, and Mr. Blatter is running for re-election.
Mr. de Gregorio also said the investigation will not affect the host countries for the next world cups:
“The World Cups 2018 and 2022 will be played in Russia and Qatar.”
That is, if the players survive playing in the scorching heat of Qatar, of course.