Monday 24 September 2018

FIFA in crisis as FBI claim corruption is 'rampant, systemic and deep-rooted'

According to reports, the U.S. Justice Department plans to announce corruption charges against officials at FIFA, the world's governing body of football
According to reports, the U.S. Justice Department plans to announce corruption charges against officials at FIFA, the world's governing body of football
Vice-President Jeffrey Webb is one of a number of FIFA officials arrested by Swiss authorities

FIFA was plunged into crisis on Wednesday as Swiss authorities in Zurich arrested seven football officials for alleged racketeering, conspiracy and corruption.

The US Department of Justice's office of public affairs released a statement which revealed FIFA vice-president Jeffrey Webb was among those arrested early this morning at the request of the United States.

Also arrested were Eduardo Li, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Eugenio Figueredo, Rafael Esquivel and Jose Maria Marin.

In total nine FIFA officials and five corporate executives have been indicted.

US attorney general Loretta Lynch said the indictment alleged "corruption that is rampant, systemic and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States" and that it "spans at least two generations of soccer officials who, as alleged, have abused their positions of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks".

In a FIFA press conference in Zurich, the world governing body's director of communications Walter de Gregorio confirmed that Friday's presidency election will go ahead as planned despite this morning's revelations.

In a separate move, Swiss authorities also opened separate criminal proceedings over the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. A statement from the Swiss attorney general said they seized electronic data from FIFA's headquarters in Zurich and opened criminal proceedings "against persons unknown on suspicion of criminal mismanagement and of money laundering in connection with the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 football World Cups".

Jeffrey Webb.jpg
Vice-President Jeffrey Webb is one of a number of FIFA officials arrested by Swiss authorities

The guilty pleas of four individual and two corporate defendants were also unsealed today including that of Chuck Blazer, the long-serving former general secretary of CONCACAF.

Lynch said the Department of Justice intended to "end any such corrupt practices, to root out misconduct and to bring wrongdoers to justice".

Acting US Attorney Kelly T Currie warned that the department's investigations are ongoing. She said: "Today's message should send a message that enough is enough.

"After decades of what the indictment alleges to be brazen corruption, organised international soccer needs a new start - a new chance for its governing institutions to provide honest oversight and support of a sport that is beloved across the world.

"Let me be clear: this indictment is not the final chapter in our investigation."

The arrests this morning took place at the five-star Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich.

FBI director James B Comey said: "As charged in the indictment, the defendants fostered a culture of corruption and greed that created an uneven playing field for the biggest sport in the world.

"Undisclosed and illegal payments, kickbacks and bribes became a way of doing business at FIFA.

"When leaders in an organisation resort to cheating the very members that they were supposed to represent, they must be held accountable.

"Whether you call it soccer or football, the fans, players and sponsors around the world who love this game should not have to worry about officials corrupting their sport.

"This case isn't about soccer, it is about fairness and following the law."

The two indicted defendants who were not among the seven arrested in Zurich this morning are former FIFA vice president and executive committee member and CONCACAF president Jack Warner and former FIFA executive committee member and CONMEBOL president Nicolas Leoz.

The convicted defendants, in addition to Blazer, are Jose Hawilla (owner and founder of Brazilian sports marketing conglomerate the Traffic Group) and Jack Warner's sons Daryll Warner and Daryan Warner. The convicted corporations are Traffic Sports International Inc and Traffic Sports USA Inc.

The indictment alleges that between 1991 and present the "defendants and their co-conspirators engaged in various criminal activities, including fraud, bribery and money laundering" and that two generations of soccer officials "abused their positions of trust for personal gain, frequently through an alliance with unscrupulous sports marketing executives who shut out competitors and kept highly lucrative contracts for themselves through the systematic payment of bribes and kickbacks.

"All told, the soccer officials are charged with conspiring to solicit and receive well over USD 150 million in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for their official support of the sports marketing executive who agreed to make the unlawful payments."

Football Association chairman Greg Dyke responded to the FIFA crisis with a statement.

It read: "We should stress this morning's developments are very serious for FIFA and its current leadership.

"As one of the associations who nominated Prince Ali it will not surprise you to learn that if the election for president goes ahead The FA will be voting for him.

"However, there must be a question mark over whether the election should take place in these circumstances.

"Clearly things are changing very quickly and our delegation to the FIFA congress in Zurich, which I am leading, will discuss the position and what we should do about it with our colleagues in UEFA when we meet tomorrow morning."

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