Grim day for FIFA: 2016 Copa America involved $110m bribes; Jeffrey Webb arrested;


Assuming Prost Amerika is not the first media outlet you opened this morning, you will already be aware of the arrest of several top FIFA officials in Zurich overnight.

Zurich cantonal officials descended on the plush Baur au Lac hotel at 6am this morning as FIFA delegates gathered for the annual meeting which will elect Blatter or Bin Ali as President for the next five years.

They asked reception for room numbers and quietly proceeded to arrest the individuals there.

For the good of ourselves?

The New York Times appears to have broken the story and is providing regular updates here.

Although it was the Swiss police who made the arrests, extradition to the USA appears to be on the cards for those accused in the 47 count indictment.

US attorney General Loretta E Lynch at a Justice Department/FBI press conference today pledged that the investigation would rid international soccer’s governing body of corruption, using terms usually reserved for mafia type trials.

Per Ms Lynch, the awarding of the Copa America in 2016 to the USA involved $110m in bribes. (see 11.07 NYT live update)

“For instance, in 2016, the United States is scheduled to host the centennial edition of the Copa America – the first time that tournament will be held in cities outside South America.

“Our investigation revealed that what should be an expression of international sportsmanship was used as a vehicle in a broader scheme to line executives’ pockets with bribes totaling $110m – nearly a third of the legitimate costs of the rights to the tournaments involved.”

American fans will want to know who paid them and to whom.

US Soccer released a statement this morning:

“The United States Soccer Federation firmly believes there is no higher priority, and nothing more important, than protecting the integrity of our game. We are committed to the highest ethical standards and business practices, and we will continue to encourage CONCACAF and FIFA to promote the same values. Out of respect for the ongoing investigation, we will not speculate or comment further on this matter at this time.”

12 schemes were involved in the indictment, nine to do with soccer marketing. Two corporations, both affiliates of the Traffic group have already pleaded guilty. They are accused of paying bribes for the marketing rights to the 2013 Gold Cup.

Four officials have also pleaded guilty, one of whom is Chuck Blazer former general-secretary of CONCACAF. Blazer had been helping the FBI with its inquiries for some time now.

The use of US banks to wire the money stands as the legal foundation for applying US racketeering law. That this has happened just two days before the election of the FIFA President where Blatter will seek a fifth consecutive term cannot be a coincidence.

FIFA vice-president and President of CONCACAF Jeffrey Webb was among those arrested.

It seems unlikely that he will be able to continue in that role. Others arrested were Eugenio Figueredo, Jack Warner, Eduardo Li, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Rafael Esquivel, José Maria Marin and Nicolás Leoz.

CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb

CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb

Despite the enormous ramifications of today’s arrests,  the two matters that fans globally despair about most seem to have escaped this morning’s dragnet.

Firstly, the award of the World Cup hosting rights to Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022) are not covered by any of the indictments. Secondly, Sepp Blatter was not one of those arrested.

FIFA sent out the man with the worst job on the planet today, its Communications Officer Walter de Gregorio to face the media. He denied Blatter was involved. He also said FIFA would not reopen the Qatar or Russia bids although the Swiss government insists it is still investigating the process which saw them selected.

“The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) has 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.”

With so many officials already providing evidence and the likelihood that more will to save their own skins, it is hard to see the nations who lost out on those bids not making a challenge once sufficient evidence of impropriety emerges.

For now the hopes of world football rest with the American Justice Department and the Swiss OAG, and perhaps most of all that the rats will turn on themselves to save their own skins.


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