FIFA face FBI criminal investigation as indictment alleges 'generations of bribery and corruption'

Attorney General Loretta Lynch speaks at a packed news conference at the U.S. Attorneys Office of the Eastern District of New York.
Image: Attorney General Loretta Lynch speaks at a packed news conference at the U.S. Attorneys Office of the Eastern District of New York.

The FBI have outlined the damning 47-count indictment in their FIFA criminal investigation, including allegations that executives accepted bribes to influence the bidding process of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Seven serving FIFA officials were arrested in Switzerland on Wednesday morning on corruption charges including vice-presidents Jeffrey Webb - the current CONCACAF president - and Eugenio Figueredo from Uruguay, along with Eduardo Li, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Rafael Esquivel and Jose Maria Marin.

In addition, two former FIFA officials, Jack Warner - the former president of CONCACAF, who has denied any wrongdoing - and Nicolas Leoz, have been indicted. All nine are or were representatives from South America, North America, Central America or the Caribbean. Five corporate executives have also been indicted.

 Attorney General of the United States Loretta Lynch
Image: Attorney General of the United States Loretta Lynch

US attorney general Loretta Lynch addressed a media conference in New York and delivered details of the indictment, which included:  

  • Long running FBI investigation into bribery and corruption
  • The 47-count indictment against individuals includes charges of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies spanning two decades.
  • Beginning in 1991 two generations of soccer officials, including the then-presidents of two regional soccer confederations under FIFA, used their positions to solicit bribes from sports marketers in exchange for commercial rights to their tournaments.
  • FIFA executives and others corrupted the bidding process for the 2010 World Cup by using bribes to influence the hosting decision.
  • The indictment also alleges that corruption and bribery extended to the 2011 presidential FIFA election, 2016 Copa America and to agreements regarding sponsorship of the Brazilian national soccer team by a major US sportswear company.
  • Indictment also alleges that Jack Warner, serving as CONCACAF president, made more than $10m in bribes.

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US Attorney General Lorretta Lynch has explained the allegations facing FIFA officials.

US attorney general Lynch said: “Many of the individuals we will describe today were entrusted with keeping soccer open and accessible to all. They held important responsibilities at every level, from building soccer fields for children in developing countries to organising the World Cup. 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 interests and enrich themselves. This Department of Justice is determined to end these practices, to root out corruption and to bring wrong-doers to justice.

“Fourteen defendants charged include high ranking officials of FIFA, leaders of regional and other governing bodies under the FIFA umbrella and sports marketing executives who, according the indictment, paid millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks to obtain lucrative media and marketing rights to international soccer tournaments.

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“The 47-count indictment against these individuals includes charges of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies spanning two decades.”

The attorney general said FIFA and the regional bodies under its umbrella make money in part by selling commercial rights to their tournaments to sports marketing companies “often through multi-year contracts, covering multiple editions of the tournaments.”

The sports marketing companies in turn sell those rights downstream, to other TV and broadcast networks to corporate sponsors and other entities for significant sums of money.

The US Justice Department ¿(@TheJusticeDept) released a diagram showing how the alleged corruption worked.
Image: The US Justice Department (@TheJusticeDept) released a diagram showing how the alleged corruption worked.

She said: “Beginning in 1991, two generations of soccer officials, including the then-presidents of two regional soccer confederations under FIFA, one being the confederation of North, Central American, and Caribbean Association Football, known as CONCACAF, which includes the US, and the South American football confederation or CONMEBOL, which represents organised soccer in South America, used their positions of trust within their respective organisations to solicit bribes from sports marketers in exchange for commercial rights to their soccer tournaments. They did this over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament.”

“Criminal activity we’ve identified did not solely involve sports marketing. Around 2004, bidding began for opportunity to host the 2010 World Cup which was ultimately awarded to South Africa, the first time the tournament was held on the African continent.

“But even for this historic event, FIFA executives and others corrupted the process by using bribes to influence the hosting decision. 

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FIFA Director of Communications Walter De Gregorio answers questions following the arrest of several FIFA officials on corruption charges.

"The indictment also alleges that corruption and bribery extended to the 2011 presidential FIFA election and to agreements regarding sponsorship of the Brazilian national soccer team by a major US sportswear company.

“In short, these individuals, through these organisations, engaged in bribery to decide who would televise games, where the games would be held and who would run the organisation overseeing organised soccer worldwide.

“And while at least one FIFA executive served as CONCACAF president without pay, there was little altruism involved, as he alone is alleged to have taken more than $10m in bribes over a 19-year period and amassed a personal fortune from his ill-gotten gains.

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Six FIFA officials have been arrested in connection with an ongoing corruption investigation.

“In many instances the defendants and their co-conspirators planned aspects of this long running scheme during meetings held here in the United States. They used the banking and the wire facilities in the US to distribute their bribe payments and they planned to profit from their scheme in large part through promotional efforts directed at the growing US market for soccer.”

She added that although arrests were made in Switzerland this morning, “we are also in the process of seeking the apprehension of additional defendants.

“All of these defendants abused the US financial system and violated US law and we intend to hold them accountable.”

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