Commentary

U.S. Soccer in the Senate hot seat over FIFAGate

By Paul Kennedy
(@pkedit)

Drip. Drip. Drip.

That's the sound, day after day, of new revelations into FIFAGate, the massive bribery scandal that resulted in indictments against 14 FIFA officials and sports marketing executives in May.

They are accused of kickback schemes that took place over more than two decades and involved more than $150 million. That's believed to have been just the tip of the iceberg as those arrested so far are only those who were foolish enough to have tried to wire or launder money through U.S. banks.

The U.S. indictments largely center around activities of sports marketing agency Traffic to secure rights to events in Concacaf and Conmebol, like the Gold Cup, which is going on now, and the Copa America, which was recently completed in Chile. Traffic president Jose Hawilla agreed to forfeit $151,713,807.43 -- the Feds want every penny -- and turned FBI informant in return for reaching a plea deal.

Since the indictments, more information on the activities of former Conmebol president Nicolas Leoz, now under house arrest in his native Paraguay have come to light. Based on the revelations of Confidant X, the Spanish sports daily As outlined the activities of Leoz and his family during his 26 years as Conmebol president. “To launder money," Confidant X explained, "they bought whole buildings, ranches and cars." Even whole neighborhoods, where Leoz, 86, is awaiting extradition to the United States.

Leoz needed someone to take care of all the banking details. As reported that person was his personal secretary, Irmina Ortiz de Ezcurra, who ended up with a fleet of 14 cars: six Toyotas, among them three Land Cruisers, five Mercedes, a Chevrolet, a Randon and a Mitsubishi L200.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

The Swiss attorney general's office has gotten on the case. Last month, AG Michael Lauber said his office had been alerted to 53 "suspicious activity reports'' filed by banks in a ''huge and complex case'' linked to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bid contests.

Over Sunday, Lauber's office reported evidence of 28 more acts of possible money laundering linked to FIFA activities as new instances are being unearthed on almost a daily basis.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Of the 14 indicted, only American Aaron Davidson has appeared in court. Like many involved in American soccer, Davidson got his start in the game at the 1994 World Cup, where he was a volunteer translator. It helps to be bilingual in soccer, and Davidson later became president of Traffic USA and chairman of the NASL's board of governors when the agency expanded from South America into the growing U.S. market.

Longtime soccer promoter Tom Mulroy, who worked with and for Davidson at Traffic USA, told the Miami Herald he knew no one in soccer who put in more hours than him except Davidson. “When you do soccer business in some parts of the world, if you enter the room with ethics and rules, you’re not a player," said Mulroy. "I don’t think Aaron wanted to do business this way, but this is like playing in a soccer match where the refs aren’t calling any fouls. If everyone’s throwing elbows, are you going to keep yours down and get your teeth knocked out, or throw up your elbows?"

Davidson is now free on $5 million bail but facing charges of racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and obstruction of justice that could land him in jail for up to 20 years. That's a fraction of the 80 years Trinidadian Jack Warner, the former Concacaf president, faces for his part in the kickback scheme and other illegal activities.

Needless to say, the self-proclaimed "Robin Hood” of Arouca -- in his spare time, Warner is a popular member of the Trinidadian Parliament -- is fighting extradition. At his first appearance last week in Magistrate's Court, Trinidadian journalist Lasana Liburd reported for the Wired868.com that "Warner was represented by enough attorneys to fill three SUVs while the State’s gang looked just as well resourced. FIFA money on the one hand, taxpayers’ money on the other" in a case that could drag out for years.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Warner's successor at the helm of Concacaf, Jeffrey Webb, could be the first indicted FIFA executive to be extradited to the USA. Bloomberg reported on Friday that Webb, who maintains several residences in Georgia, where he was married in August 2013, agreed to be extradited from Zurich and could appear this week in Federal court in Brooklyn. No one of those arrested is believed to know more about the inner workings of Concacaf and FIFA than Webb, a Caymans Island banker.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Like Watergate more than 40 years ago, FIFAGate will move to a Senate committee room this week. In the role of Sam Erwin will be Kansas Senator Jerry Moran, the chairman of the Senate consumer protection subcommittee who has called a hearing for Wednesday to examine the FIFA scandals as well as potential human rights abuses in Qatar related to construction work on the 2022 World Cup.

The star witness: Andrew Jennings, the Scottish journalist who, he says, turned the FBI on to Concacaf's financial reports that led to it nailing Concacaf general secretary Chuck Blazer on tax invasion and turning him into an undercover informant who helped break the case. The New York Times reported that U.S. Soccer, whose secretary general Dan Flynn will testify, is expected to face "aggressive scrutiny" at the hearing over what it did or did not know about FIFAGate.

As Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, who recently sparred with U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati over the federation's handling of the Hope Solo case, told the Times, “We need to understand how this corruption occurred. U.S. Soccer either knew or should have known. It’s that simple, and I don’t know which is worse.”

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Jennings -- the whistle-blower's whistle blower -- has accused U.S. Soccer and Gulati of "spineless servility" in its handling of Blazer and FIFA president Sepp Blatter. "It is depressing that grassroots football in the Concacaf region meekly allows Blazer and his boys to behave as they do," Jennings wrote in 2013.  No one has ever accused Gulati -- one of only three FIFA executive committee members to return luxury watches given to them by Brazilian World Cup organizers in 2014 -- of corruption. But he did serve on the Concacaf executive committee, like Alan Rothenberg before him, until he was elected to the FIFA executive committee in 2013.

By any measure, American soccer benefited enormously from its close relationship with Blazer and Warner and Concacaf. When the Gold Cup heads north of the border for Tuesday's Group B finale in Toronto, it will mark the first time the Concacaf tournament has not been entirely played in the United States since 2003.

How do you reconcile Mulroy's choice: play by international soccer's rules or not be a player in international soccer? The easy answer is: have the better deal. The Gold Cup is held in the United States and will remain here for the foreseeable future because no one else can come close to offering a better economic arrangement with full houses for not only matches involving the USA but Mexico and even teams like El Salvador.

But having the better deal does not always make you the winner as the USA learned the hard way when it was beaten out by Qatar for the rights to host the 2022 World Cup.

4 comments about "U.S. Soccer in the Senate hot seat over FIFAGate".
  1. Footballer Forever, July 13, 2015 at 11:18 p.m.

    This fbi witchhunt is getting out of hand. I am sure they can dig enough dirt with eggball both in college and the more brain damaged ones. Stop policing football freaking dimwits.

  2. R2 Dad, July 14, 2015 at 12:20 a.m.

    Don't worry, this is only about money. Congress did nothing about all the 2008 banking crooks, as long as they paid the hefty fines. I wouldn't be surprised if Fifa starts drowning these superpacs in cash.

  3. Lou vulovich, July 14, 2015 at 8:35 a.m.

    Hahahaha. The US Congress and Senate committee investigating soccer corruption,
    Have they ever heard of Wall Street. How do you think Concacaf got 3 spots plus a playoff, bases on their great WC results??. Hahaha

  4. John Polis, July 14, 2015 at 1:59 p.m.

    Paul, great synopsis of this tangled situation.

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