FIFA Bribery Bust Stems From Decades-Long Scheme, Feds Say
The U.S. Attorney's office on Wednesday named 18 of the world's top soccer officials in a federal corruption indictment, with four others pleading guilty, as part of an investigation led by the FBI and federal prosecutors here in New York.
Attorney General Lorretta Lynch and federal prosecutors say several FIFA officials were involved in a conspiracy with sports marketing companies since the 1990s, raking in close to $150 million in bribes and kickbacks.
According to the indictment, those involved in the scheme used American banks to commit wire fraud, and profited heavily from the sport's growing popularity in the United States.
"They did this over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament," said Lynch. "They were expected to uphold the rules that keep soccer honest and to protect the integrity of the game. Instead they corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their interest and enrich themselves."
FBI agents searched the FIFA offices in Miami Beach. The president and former president of that body, called CONCACAF are among the 14 who are being indicted. Four others have pleaded guilty.
"If you touch our shores with your corrupt enterprise—whether that is through meetings or using our world class financial system—you will be held accountable," said FBI Director James Comey.
Meanwhile, seven of the 14 defendants were arrested outside of a hotel in Switzerland. Swiss prosecutors have also opened their own criminal investigation into the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
Published reports say former FIFA official and Queens native Charles Blazer has been cooperating with the investigation.
FIFA has faced rumors of bribes and vote-buying over its decision to award the tournaments to Russia and Qatar back in 2010.
The attorney general says bribery was involved in the selection for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and during the 2011 FIFA presidential election.
A FIFA spokesman says, for now, a location change is not being considered.
None of the indicted officials have been suspended.
Soccer lovers we spoke with say they're surprised—not by the corruption, but that anyone got caught.
"It's supposed to be a sport game. I don't know why they're doing that," said one soccer fan.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter is not among those arrested Wednesday.
The organization says its presidential elections will go on this week as scheduled. Blatter, considered by many to be the most powerful person in sports, is favored to win his fifth term as head of FIFA.