Swiss law enforcement authorities and the U.S Department of Justice arrested seven high-ranking FIFA officials in Zurich on Wednesday regarding allegations of racketeering and corruption involving more than $150 million in bribes and kickbacks over the last 20 years. FIFA is the highly politicized governing body of international soccer (football).
A total of 14 people, including several private sports marketing executives, were charged by the Department of Justice for allegedly “foster[ing] a culture of corruption and greed that created an uneven playing field for the biggest sport in the world.” The arrests came as the FIFA officials were gathering in Zurich for a regularly scheduled meeting.
According to several senior U.S. law enforcement official who spoke to the media, the World Cup bribery investigation resulted from rumors of payoffs to the FIFA officials who made the decision who would host the upcoming World Cups. Of note, the World Cups are currently scheduled in global peace breaker Russia for 2018 and blazing hot Qatar in 2022.
Details on the World Cup bribery scandal arrests
As the story of the World Cup bribery scandal unfolds, it turns out that a U.S. FIFA official, Charles Blazer, has already pleaded guilty to federal charges. Sources are also reporting he wore an undercover microphone to record incriminating conversations with other FIFA officials.
The arrests started at a hotel in Zurich, where FIFA officials were congregating for their annual meeting. The Swiss Federal Office of Justice noted that electronic data and documents were also seized at FIFA’s main office. The individuals who were arrested, which include two FIFA vice presidents, have been detained pending extradition to the U.S.
The Department of Justice also announced guilty pleas by four individuals and two corporate defendants, including that of Blazer. The American FIFA official has already forfeited $1.9 million in his plea agreement, and he is required to make another substantial payment in the future.
The DoJ is reporting that FIFA officials Jeffrey Webb from the Cayman Islands, Eugenio Figueredo of Uruguay, Eduardo Li of Costa Rica, Julio Rocha of Nicaragua, Costas Takkas of Britain, Rafael Esquivel of Venezuela and Jose Maria Marin of Brazil have been arrested. All seven men are employed by the regional soccer confederations of North and South America.
The upcoming FIFA annual meeting was also an election wherein the organization’s longtime president, Sepp Blatter, is running for a fifth term as chief exec. Blatter has served as president for 17 years, and has never been implicated in personal corruption. Analysts note his tenure as president has, however, been tainted by several scandals.
Analysts also point out that officials were warned numerous times regarding the dangerous heat in Qatar that would make the country a poor choice to host the World Cup. Keep in mind Qatar is one of the hottest places on the planet, and temperatures regularly top 120 degrees F.
The FIFA officials were also informed by human rights groups of the so-called “medieval conditions” for migrant workers in Qatar that would inevitably cost the lives of hundreds (if not thousands) who were actually building the new World Cup stadiums in the dangerous heat.
Statements from DoJ and FIFA
“The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch moted 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. 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 commented in a statement on its website that it “welcomes actions that can help contribute to rooting out any wrongdoing in football. We are pleased to see that the investigation is being energetically pursued for the good of football and believe that it will help reinforce measures that FIFA has already taken.”
Recent tweets on FIFA bribery scandal
A recent tweet from Richard Conway of the BBC and a witty repartee:
U.S. Attorney press office using these pictures to explain today’s Fifa arrests: pic.twitter.com/YOoDibaYnF
— Richard Conway (@richard_conway) May 27, 2015
FIFA says no changes to hosts for 2018 or 2022 World Cups
In a breaking development, FIFA announced on Wednesday that despite the ongoing bribery scandal surrounding the choice of host nations there will be no revote or rescheduling for the 2018 and the 2022 World Cup hosts.
FIFA spokesman Walter de Gregorio spoke to the media at a quickly arranged news conference in Zurich, saying that “Russia and Qatar will be played.”