RIO DE JANEIRO -- As the shock wave subsided after this week's arrests in Switzerland of seven FIFA bosses — including the former head of the Brazilian soccer confederation, José Maria Marin — Brazilians expressed three reactions.
The first was: Well done to the United States and Swiss for arresting this bunch.
The second: how shameful that we couldn’t do this ourselves.
And the third: Now, surely, it’s the turn of Brazil’s authorities to take this further, given that the accusations of corruption at the higher levels of the Brazilian game are numerous and have been resounding for decades.
Fourteen defendants in total were charged by the United States with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies, among other offenses, in a $150 million scheme that goes back 24 years.
Three are Brazilian. José Hawilla, 71, owner and founder of the powerful Brazilian sports conglomerate Traffic Group, has pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and obstruction of justice, and is cooperating with the investigation. Marin, 83, faces charges of racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy. So does a third Brazilian, intermediary José Margulies, 75, controlling principal of Valente Corp. and Somerton Ltd.
“This is an injustice. It is an attack against Brazil. Between us, it is a humiliation for us,” joked Ricardo Boechat, an outspoken commentator on the Band TV and radio network who was clearly gleeful when the news broke Wednesday, and cleverly satirized the mock indignation bent Brazilian politicians often bluster up when they are accused. “José Maria Marin has been up to this for four or five decades here in Brazil and we have never managed to do anything.”
Local media began pointing the finger at the Brazilian Soccer Confederation’s current head, Marco Del Nero, as he landed in Rio de Janeiro on Friday, having jumped ship from the vote that would reelect FIFA President Seth Blatter to fly home and deal with the crisis.
“I didn’t know anything, of course not,” Del Nero protested at a news conference Friday. Confronted earlier by the SBT TV channel even as he arrived at Rio’s international airport, he insisted that he would explain everything and wished Marin "luck” in his case.
The CBF, as the Brazilian Soccer Confederation is known in its Portuguese acronym, had removed Marin’s name from the front of its Rio headquarters, which were named after the jailed Cartola, or "Top Hat," as soccer bosses are known in Portuguese slang.
Brazilian media wanted to know whether Del Nero was the individual named in U.S. Justice Department documents as one of two "co-conspirators" who shared annual bribe money of about $986,000 with Marin over a deal for the Brazil Cup, a national soccer tournament, according to testimony from José Hawilla.
In the Friday news conference, Del Nero issued an outright denial. “It’s not me,” he said.
The newspaper Folha de S. Paulo reported Thursday that U.S. investigations indicated that the other former CBF official mentioned could be Ricardo Teixeira, another controversial head of the confederation who resigned in 2012 on health grounds after a slew of corruption allegations and a damning and lengthy 2011 profile in Brazilian magazine piauí. Teixeira’s former father-in-law, João Havelange, resigned as an honorary FIFA president the following year after an internal FIFA investigation said both he and Teixeira took bribes.
A separate Swiss investigation targets alleged "criminal mismanagement" and money laundering in the choice of host country for the 2018 and 2022 Football World Cups, and the Swiss said they will question 10 people who took part in voting as members of FIFA’s Executive Committee in 2010. They have not named the 10, but Ricardo Teixeira was on that committee.
On May 28, José Cardozo, Brazil’s justice minister, promised a police investigation. That evening, Brazil’s Senate also agreed to a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry following pressure by the former Brazilian soccer star, Romário, who is now a popular senator and has used Congress to attack corruption in the game.
“This imprisonment of José Maria Marin is the beginning of a great future, I believe, for our football, especially for this bad entity, the most corrupt entity that we have in our football … the CBF,” Romário said in Congress on Wednesday. “Congratulations to the FBI and principally to the Swiss Police.”
Social networks meanwhile are buzzing with a 2012 video which appeared to show José Maria Marin pocketing one of the medals he was handing out during a prize-giving ceremony after a youth soccer tournament. The video has been seen 236,000 times.
“Brazil has already been in better company,” said Paulo Vinícius Coelho, one of Brazil’s best-known football commentators, in a video blog for the UOL site yesterday. “Either Brazilian soccer ends corruption, or corruption ends Brazilian soccer.”
On Friday, he returned to the theme following Del Nero’s news conference and broached the question of what the CBF boss thought of the resemblance between his profile and that of the "co-conspirator" described in U.S. documents, or whether he thought there was someone else who better fit the bill.
“To this question, in truth, there is only one answer: time,” Coelho said.