The indictments announced Wednesday centered on media rights and marketing deals associated with FIFA’s tournaments, but federal officials implied crimes may have been committed in connection with the bid process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch described corruption within FIFA as “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted.”
Wednesday’s indictments did not include Sepp Blatter — FIFA’s longtime president, who is expected to be re-elected to a fifth term Friday — and a FIFA spokesman pledged Blatter was not involved with any of the alleged corruption, and that the organization welcomes this investigation. Anyone familiar with FIFA’s reputation will greet these claims with skepticism.
What happens next?
In a news conference in Brooklyn on Wednesday morning explaining the investigation, several federal law enforcement officials implied more charges could be on the way. While officials including Lynch and FBI Director James B. Comey spoke in Brooklyn, federal agents in Miami were executing a search warrant at the headquarters of CONCACAF, the governing body for soccer in North America, Central America and the Caribbean that is associated with FIFA.
While the indictments announced Wednesday are just accusations, and defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty, it is worth noting that two former FIFA officials and the owner of a Brazilian sports marketing company have pleaded guilty and agreed to forfeit millions. While FIFA maintains it welcomes these investigations, with several top officials now facing federal charges, it will be interesting to see if any more defendants agree to plead guilty and turn over more information, which could result in more charges.
“Let me be clear,” said acting U.S. Attorney Kelly T. Currie of the Eastern District of New York, “this indictment is not the final chapter in our investigation.”
Why are U.S. law enforcement agencies pursuing these charges?
Federal law grants law enforcement agencies broad authority to pursue criminal investigations as long as there is some connection to the United States, even a tangential one such as the involvement of a bank, Internet service provider or cell phone company.
“If you touch our shores with your corrupt enterprise … you will be held accountable,” Comey said Wednesday.
Is FIFA that big a deal?
Absolutely. As the governing body for the world’s most popular sport, its political and economic influence is vast. Read this for a full look at the organization’s structure and reach.
If FIFA officials have been involved in decades of corruption as U.S. officials allege, how has it gone on so long without law enforcement involvement?
Good question. A few years ago, FIFA made a move that seemed to indicate a desire for reform. Facing growing criticism after its controversial decisions involving the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, FIFA hired Michael J. Garcia, a former U.S. attorney, as an ethics investigator. Garcia spent more than a year investigating the bidding process, but resigned in protest after he said FIFA officials inaccurately summarized his findings. FIFA refused to release Garcia’s 450-page report, but announced that it found minimal rule violations. Garcia disagreed, alleging he had uncovered “serious and wide-ranging issues” regarding how FIFA awarded those two World Cups.
What does this mean for soccer fans?
The next two World Cups — 2018 in Russia and 2022 in Qatar — were awarded amid widespread accusations of bribery and vote-trading. A FIFA spokesman maintains they will go on as planned. In a fast-moving story now involving criminal investigations on two continents — Swiss authorities announced Wednesday their own investigation of FIFA — it’s unclear if FIFA can really declare with much authority what will happen this week, let alone in 2018 and 2022.
When asked about this Wednesday, Lynch said U.S. officials would not seek to get involved with deciding of future soccer tournaments should be relocated.
If the bribes were paid by rich marketing executives to wealthy soccer officials, who are the victims here?
U.S. taxpayers, for one. Charles Blazer, a former FIFA official who pleaded guilty and cooperated with this investigation, admitted to evading taxes for years, and has paid $1.9 million in restitution. More charges of tax evasion could come. Also: poor children who want to play soccer around the world. Many youth soccer organizations in developing countries depend on FIFA grants, acting U.S. Attorney Currie said Wednesday, so money diverted into the pockets of FIFA officials was money not spent on youth soccer in poorer nations.
Could prominent officials in American sports be implicated?
Federal officials declined to comment specifically Wednesday on anyone not already indicted, but they did allege two anecdotes of interest with ties to the U.S.
Attorney General Lynch accused an unnamed American sportswear company of being involved in a bribery scheme to obtain a sponsorship deal for the Brazilian national team. When a reporter asked her if the unnamed company was Nike – the Oregon-based superbrand that has long had a relationship with Brazil’s soccer team – Lynch declined to comment.
The indictment also alleges $30 million in bribes were paid in connection with the planning for the 2016 Copa America, a soccer tournament scheduled to come to America that year for the first time. Several soccer officials are already charged with crimes connected to that tournament, but more arrests could come.