Commentary

They're back! FIFA scandals enter new territory

It seemed like eons ago that Swiss police showed up (the first time) at 6 a.m. at the five-star Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich, asked for the room registry and began knocking on doors and hauling away FIFA officials only protected from public view by bed sheets held up by hotel employees suit coats with tails.

That same day, as indictments against 14 FIFA officials and soccer marketing executives were announced in Federal court in Brooklyn, U.S. attorney general Loretta Lynch compared the case to that the Feds would build against mafia organizations.

All that took place less than two years ago.

Since then, Sepp Blatter has been stepped down as FIFA president, fellow Swiss Gianni Infantino has replaced him, and FIFA restructured its board, replacing the executive committee with a much bigger but less powerful executive council. (And Swiss police showed up a second time later in 2015 to make a second round of arrests.)

In recent months, we've heard little about the FIFA scandals. Five men -- Brazilian Jose Maria Marin, Paraguayan Juan Angel Napout, Peruvian Manuel Burga, Guatemalan Hector Trujillo and Anglo-Greek Costas Takkas -- still await trial in Federal court, while others -- notably the notorious Jack Warner -- continue to fight extradition.

But is all that just the quiet before the storm? The FIFA scandals hang over soccer's world governing body as evidenced by the organization's problems on the marketing front. Sponsors continue to stay away a year out from the World Cup in Russia, threatening FIFA's bottom line.

Of the 12 non-Brazilian sponsors FIFA had for the 2014 World Cup, six did not renew, and only three new major sponsors have come on board: Russian energy company Gazprom -- an economic spear of Vladimir Putin's battle for influence with Europe -- and Chinese firms Wanda and Hisense.

The probe into soccer corruption, at FIFA and around the world, is expanding. On Thursday, French newspaper Le Monde reported that French authorities have launched an investigation into the award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup rights and they have interviewed Blatter.

The report is significant because until now much of the work of U.S. and Swiss investigators has concerned corruption at the regional level -- in Concacaf and Conmebol -- or with the award of rights to past World Cups (1998, 2006 and 2010).

Last year, French financial prosecutor Eliane Houlette said authorities would investigate if they had reason to believe French nationals were involved in corruption related to FIFA's award of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar in 2010 or if unlawful acts related to it were committed in France.

The turning point in the race came when then-UEFA president Michel Platini decided to abandon his support for the USA and to vote for Qatar. That followed a meeting of French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Qatari Emir Tamin Bin Haman Al-Thani in Paris 10 days before the FIFA vote on the 2018 and 2022 hosts.

(Sarkozy is alleged to have pressed Platini to change his vote and if he did, Qatari investors would offer to buy Paris St. German and finance a new sports channel in France -- both of which happened. Blatter, who supported the USA, believes Sarkozy's influence was a major factor in Qatar's surprise victory.)

The other major development on Thursday came when BuzzFeed reported that Richard Lai, president of Guam's Football Association, pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud. That's significant for two reasons.

Lai's guilty plea is the first since Donald Trump was elected president and a new administration took over at the Department of Justice. But as BuzzFeed reporters Ken Bensinger and Mary Ann Georgantopoulos noted, Lai's plea takes the Feds' case to a new region of the world, Asia.

“Today’s guilty plea by Guam Football Association president Richard K. Lai, reaffirms the dedication of IRS Criminal Investigation to use our financial investigative expertise to uncover corrupt schemes and illicit payments involving FIFA officials,” stated Special Agent-in-Charge R. Damon Rowe. “Co-conspirators may try to hide and launder the proceeds of their corrupt self-enrichment, but as mentioned in the legal documents filed today, IRS-CI Special Agents will trace and uncover those funds both through the U.S. financial system and beyond, to offshore jurisdictions in locations such as Asia, the Middle East and around the globe.”

Lai, a U.S. citizen and current member of the FIFA Audit and Compliance Committee, said he received a bribe of $100,000 in 2011 for his vote for the FIFA presidency contested that year, and he was paid more than $850,000 in bribes between 2009 and 2014 from a member of Kuwait Football Association to help identify other members of the Asian Football Confederation who could targeted for bribes.

The DOJ release does not identity the FIFA presidential candidate or Kuwait Football Association official but both are well known in FIFA political circles.

Corruption in Asian soccer?

That should come as no shock as it was the subject of the book by Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert, The Ugly Game: The Corruption of FIFA and the Qatari Plot to Buy the World Cup.

5 comments about "They're back! FIFA scandals enter new territory".
  1. Wooden Ships, April 28, 2017 at 12:05 a.m.

    It shouldn't be too late to have both awards rescinded. That would go a long way in restoring some semblance of justice and righting the FIFA ship. Its damn ugly as it stands currently.

  2. Dan Eckert, April 28, 2017 at 7:50 a.m.

    Here's the real rub. They are admit to the cooruption, to the bribes, to money laundering - but do they go to jail? Nope - they pay a fine, or do some community service - or something other than going to jail.

    Maybe jail - maybe public flogging - maybe chopping off a hand - maybe taking ALL of their money (at least up to the amount they took) but something has to sway these individuals from breaking the law - as the current penalty just isn't having an impact. It just doesn't make sense - steal millions - pay back thousands. And they want to know what we are having trust issues.

  3. Rusty Welch, April 28, 2017 at 11:35 a.m.

    Univision Deportes

  4. Rusty Welch, April 28, 2017 at 11:35 a.m.

    ha! comment went to wrong article...

  5. Nick Daverese, April 29, 2017 at 8:42 a.m.

    Want something that can get you a lot of money. You have to pay for it some may call that a bribe. Don't pay it it will go to some place else that will.

    There is one guy here in the US that is an achnowledged expert on building inter structure. He will get a trillion dollars from the government and private sector investment to spend on it. The places he picks will get that money. Does anyone actually think he is not being bribed left and right to pick the sites they want him to pick? Because if you think that your a dreamer.

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