The American-led corruption investigation roiling international soccer expanded widely Thursday, with 16 more indictments of global soccer officials and the detention of two more FIFA vice presidents in Switzerland.
Hours after Swiss authorities again carried out a pre-dawn raid of FIFA officials in Zurich, Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced from Washington the additional indictments as well as guilty pleas from eight global soccer officials, including some of those indicted back in May.
The newly charged include the former president of the Republic of Honduras, a judge from Guatemala and executives of sports marketing companies based in New Jersey and Miami. U.S. law enforcement has now brought criminal charges against 34 people and several companies in what Lynch termed “decades of systemic corruption” involving more than $200 million in bribes and kickbacks, mostly tied to the awarding of lucrative media rights contracts for international soccer events.
Sepp Blatter, the suspended former longtime FIFA president who has been defiant at times in the face of both American and Swiss law enforcement investigations, was not among those charged. But in an afternoon news conference, Lynch vowed the investigation will continue.
“The betrayal of trust set forth here is outrageous,” Lynch said. “The scale of corruption alleged herein is unconscionable. And the message from this announcement should be clear to every culpable individual who remains in the shadows . . . You will not wait us out.”
Thursday’s events played out nearly identically to the raids and news conferences in May that brought the years-long criminal investigation of FIFA into public view. According to the New York Times, which first reported the raid, Swiss authorities again stormed the Baur au Lac luxury hotel in Zurich.
And while the news conference was in Washington this time, rather than Brooklyn, federal officials used the same poster board to explain the alleged criminal conspiracy. IRS Criminal Investigation Chief Richard Weber even re-used a one-liner he said back in May: “This is the World Cup of fraud.”
The 92-count indictment unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn, like the original indictments, focuses primarily on bribes taken by FIFA officials from sports marketing executives vying for media rights contracts for international soccer tournaments. Some FIFA officials made as much as $600,000 yearly in bribes, according to Robert Capers, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
“This case is nothing short of one of the most complex international financial investigations ever conducted,” said Weber, who noted U.S. authorities have now traced funds connected to the alleged conspiracies to accounts in more than 40 countries.
FIFA officials had been meeting in Zurich this week, ironically, to discuss reform measures. Swiss authorities detained Alfredo Hawit and Juan Angel Napout, the current presidents of CONCACAF and CONMEBOL, respectively, the FIFA umbrella organizations that oversee soccer in North, Central and South America and the Caribbean.
All told, the past three presidents of both CONCACAF and CONMEBOL — all former members of FIFA’s executive committee — have now been implicated. Jeffrey Webb, a former CONCACAF president, was among those whose convictions were announced Thursday. Webb forfeited more than $6.7 million as part of his guilty plea to charges of racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering.
In response to Thursday’s developments, FIFA released a brief statement.
“FIFA will continue to cooperate fully with the U.S. investigation as permitted by Swiss law, as well as with the investigation being led by the Swiss Office of the Attorney General,” the statement said. “FIFA will have no further comment.”
Rafael Callejas, the former president of Honduras and a member of FIFA’s television and marketing committee, was among those indicted Thursday, as was Hector Trujillo, the Guatemalan soccer federation president and a judge.
Zorana Danis, the owner of New Jersey-based International Soccer Marketing, Inc. and Fabio Tordin, former CEO of Miami-based Traffic Sports USA Inc., were among the newly indicted who also pleaded guilty.
Those convicted Thursday agreed to forfeit more than $40.7 million, combined, to the federal government, led by Alejandra Burzaco, an Argentinian sports marketing executive who will turn over $21.6 million, according to federal officials. The investigation has racked up more than $190 million in forfeitures, officials said.
“We are progressing in our efforts to rooting out what amounts to decades of systemic corruption, and are not anywhere near the end of this investigation,” Capers said. “There’s more work to be done, and we aim to do it.”