FIFA bombshell: seven arrested in Zurich, 14 indicted

Zurich's Baur au Lac, the preferred hotel of FIFA executives, was raided in the early morning hours of Wednesday and seven FIFA officials were arrested in a joint U.S.-Swiss probe into corruption and bribery to the tune of more than $150 million in bribes and kickbacks.

FIFA 14

The Department of Justice issued a statement early on Wednesday that accused nine soccer officials and five marketing executives of participating in a "24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer" to the tune of $150 million in bribes and kickbacks.

A 47-count indictment was unsealed early Wednesday in federal court in Brooklyn, charging 14 defendants with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies

Those charged included the current and former presidents of Concacaf, Jeffrey Webb and Jack Warner, and Conmebol, Eugenio Figueredo and Nicolas Leoz. (When Leoz, now 86, retired as Conmebol president, he famously said, "I’m retiring with the tranquility and knowledge of having done a sincere, honest job … I’ve not stolen so much as a cent.”)

Also charged were were current or former presidents of the Brazilian (Jose Maria Marin), Costa Rican (Eduardo Li), Nicaraguan (Julio Rocha) and Venezuelan (Rafael Esquivel) federations and a Concacaf advisor (Costas Takkas, an Englishman from the Cayman Islands).

The marketing executives charged include executives representing the three commercial agencies with rights to the 2016 Copa America Centenario: Traffic, Full Play and Torneos. One of those charged is American Aaron Davidson, president of Traffic Sports USA and chairman of the board the NASL.

The arrests came on the eve of the FIFA Congress at which embattled FIFA president Sepp Blatter is expected to win election for a fifth term.

Webb Surprise

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the arrest of Webb from the Cayman Islands. He replaced Jack Warner as Concacaf president in 2011 following Warner's resignation in a vote-buying scandal in the Caribbean.

Webb, who maintains a residence in the Atlanta area, was touted as a reformer within FIFA and held the key position of head of the FIFA internal audit committee. He has often been mentioned as a possible successor to Blatter.

More importantly from an American perspective, he has been pushing to get the voting for the 2026 World Cup bidding campaign structured so a Concacaf nation -- presumably the USA -- would be selected as host. Those decisions are slated to take place Friday and Saturday.

In addition to the arrests in Zurich, the FBI is executing search warrants at Concacaf headquarters in Miami.

The Scheme

According to the Department of Justice, the charges relate bribes and kickbacks by soccer officials from sports marketing executives in connection with the commercialization of the media and marketing rights associated with Concacaf and Conmebol, the South American confederation.

They include FIFA World Cup qualifiers in the Concacaf region, the Gold Cup, Concacaf Champions League, Copa America, Copa Libertadores and Copa do Brasil. Most critically, they also include the 2016 Copa America Centenario, which the USA is supposed to host. The fate of the one-off event is now up in the air.

Other alleged schemes relate to bribes and kickbacks in connection with the sponsorship of the CBF, the Brazilian federation, by a major U.S. sportswear company, selection of the host country for the 2010 World Cup and the 2011 FIFA presidential election.

Four Convictions

The indictments followed guilty pleas gained against four individuals: American Chuck Blazer, the long-serving former general secretary of Concacaf and former member of the FIFA executive committee, Jose Hawilla, the owner and founder of Miami-based Traffic Group, and Daryan and Daryll Warner, sons of former Concacaf president and FIFA vice president Jack Warner, who was also charged. As part of Hawilla's plea in December, he forfeited $151 million.

AG's Reaction

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

Swiss Investigation

At the same time, the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland announced investigators took data and other materials from FIFA offices as part of criminal proceedings launched in March into criminal mismanagement and money laundering in connection with the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

The collection of bank records at various financial institutes in Switzerland had already begun to serve criminal proceedings both in Switzerland and abroad.

7 comments about "FIFA bombshell: seven arrested in Zurich, 14 indicted".
  1. Edgar Soudek, May 27, 2015 at 8:47 a.m.

    The one they should have arrested long ago is Blatter - the most corrupt, corrupted, and corruptible of the entire upper echelon in FIFA; as the old saying goes, "the Fish stinks from the Top!"

  2. ROBERT BOND, May 27, 2015 at 11:14 a.m.

    bladder will continue to pee on fussball while he gives a cut to the 3rd world, most of which lives on bakeesh..doubt he was dumd enough to use US banks........

  3. Jack Niner, May 27, 2015 at 11:46 a.m.

    Blatter needs to come clean...The last two WC awards were tainted and need to be remanded and re-bid. The U.S.A. - leading again.

  4. R2 Dad, May 27, 2015 at 12:11 p.m.

    Jsck, I don't think the US should bid for hosting rights unless FIFA drops their exemption from all US taxes. A US world cup would set a revenue record for FIFA--why would we exempt them from taxes? It's the one lever we have. I can't believe congress hasn't jumped on this yet.

  5. beautiful game, May 27, 2015 at 2:03 p.m.

    This indictment of FIFA is just the beginning; superseding indictments will follow as more witnesses line up to tell their stories of hubris and corruption. Besides the cleansing of FIFA, it is more important to kill the 2018 & 2022 WC venues as soon as possible...the corruption centers around the latter from pay-offs, kickbacks to human rights violations.

  6. Lou vulovich, May 27, 2015 at 5:20 p.m.

    Excellent. Now if they could just extend the same methods to local state and federal governments internationally. Corruption

  7. Oscar Llamuca, May 29, 2015 at 7:34 p.m.

    The FBI should investigate the US Congress
    The is plenty of corruption up there

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