The U.S. Department of Justice has reportedly uncovered evidence of bribery and corruption committed by FIFA for the last two decades and beyond. As detailed by U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch during a press conference Wednesday in New York, federal charges have been brought against 14 people, including nine current or former FIFA officials.
“This is something we’ve all sort of been waiting for but didn’t expect would ever happen,” Sports Illustrated soccer writer Brian Straus said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “FIFA’s corruption is no secret. They almost revel in it. They act as sort of an international non-government organization that answers to nobody, that makes its own rules, and sort of flaunts its largesse and corruption to the rest of the world. And what we found out today, shockingly, is that they are touchable. The DOJ (Department of Justice) and the FBI and the IRS did the dirty work in the books. It’s like ‘The Untouchables.’ It’s like Al Capone, and they made the arrest.”
Arrested officials include Jeffrey Webb (Cayman islands), Eugenio Figueredo (Uruguay), Eduardo Li (Costa Rica), Julio Rocha (Nicaragua), Costas Takkas (Britain), Rafael Esquivel (Venezuela) and Jose Maria Marin (Brazil). The raid took place in a Zurich hotel.
“They knew they’d all be there,” Straus explained. “The FIFA presidential election is scheduled for tomorrow and all the members of the FIFA executive committee and all the confederation presidents and national federation presidents are there.”
FIFA vice president Jack Warner, Nicolas Leoz, Aaron Davidson, Alejandro Burzaco, Jose Margulies, Huge Jinkis and Mariano Jinkis were also indicted.
Sunil Gulati, the president of U.S. soccer, was not.
“You may not think of America as sort of a big player in the soccer world, but it is,” Straus said. “All of this stuff is running through the U.S. This sport is hugely popular here. MLS is growing, obviously the viewership for major international tournaments is sky-high, and CONCACAF is headquartered here. It’s in Miami.”
As Straus explained, FIFA officials often use American banks and American email to commit fraud and carry out bribes and back-room deals.
“So this stuff runs through the U.S.,” Straus said. “You may not consider the U.S. the center of the soccer universe, but enormous amounts of money and marketing contracts and TV contracts flow through this country, and that’s what piqued the DOJ’s interest.”
The corruption included, but was not limited to, election results and World Cup bids. The World Cup is slated to take place in Russia and Qatar in 2018 and 2022, respectively.
Might those bids be revoked?
“That’s a good question,” Straus said. “I’m not sure who has jurisdiction over that. I’m not sure who could force that. It is FIFA’s event, and so to some extent, I suppose FIFA could sort of play it where they want. Qatar has got a lot bigger problems than bribery. They use a kafala system that ties foreign and migrant laborers to their employers. They lose their rights, they lose their passports, it’s almost slavery. And this is not something that deterred FIFA from awarding the World Cup to Qatar.”
FIFA president Sepp Blatter was not been indicted – at least not yet. Straus joked that Blatter probably led police to the hotel rooms of his rivals.
“This guy is Godfather Ruthless, and he’s a brilliant politician,” Straus said. “We would love to think that this is eventually going to reach him, but there’s no guarantee. He may very well have successfully insulated himself from all of this. And also, he may not necessarily be guilty of taking bribes. Sepp has always struck me as someone who would rather win the Nobel Peace Prize and lunch with presidents than enrich himself further. I think he’s perhaps is in this for different reasons. So what he might be guilty of is simply allowing all this stuff to fester underneath him. He doesn’t care. He lets the people get rich. He turns his back to the corruption and lets it go on, but may not have his hand in the till himself. That may be what this becomes. While he allowed this stuff to go on (during) his watch, he may not have his hands dirty himself in a way that could sort of be proven in a court. So we’ll see what happens.”