Loretta Lynch, the United States’ Attorney General, took a sledgehammer to what crumbling walls remained of FIFA’s image and reputation as she outlined the case against senior FIFA officials past and present.
Lynch was speaking at a news conference in support of an earlier statement from the Justice Department announcing the arrests, intended arrests and indictment of 14 senior football officials and marketing specialists on corruption charges.
After Lynch had spoken, Richard Weber of the Internal Revenue Service’s criminal investigation department added: “This is the World Cup of fraud. Today we are issuing FIFA with a red card.”
While world federation FIFA may claim that the charges centre on allegations of wrongdoing by individuals out of personal greed, Lynch went out of her way to indicate that a conspiracy of corruption between powerful football officials and marketeers was endemic within the worldwide game – going back to the early 1990s.
That covers an era during which Sepp Blatter has been first general secretary and then, from 1998, president of the world federation.
Lynch opened by describing the indictments as opening a window on “bribery and corruption in the world of organised soccer.” by men “who held important responsibilities at every level.”
She explained the commercial rights sales system which led directly into accusations against Trinidad’s Jack Warner and Paraguay’s Nicolas Leoz.
Lynch said: “Beginning in 1991 two generations of soccer officials including the then president of CONCACAF (Warner) and the South American football confederation CONMEBOL (Leoz) used their positions of trust to solicit bribes from sports markeers in exchange for the commercial rights to their tournaments. They did this time after time, year after year, tournament after tournament.”
Not only in the past, either. Such corrupt practices, said Lynch, were being perpetuated in relation to the 2016 Centennial Copa America which is due to be staged in the United States – though whether it will or not may now a matter for review.
‘Lining excutive pockets’
Lynch continued: “What should have been an expression of sporting celebration was used as vehicle to line executive pockets to the tune of $110m, nearly a third of the legitimate cost of the rights to the tournament.”
She went on to link the corruption to 2004 when bidding begin for the hosting of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, saying: “FIFA executives and others corrupted the process by using bribes to influence the hosting decision.”
Lynch also called into question events leading up to the 2011 FIFA presidential and the sponsorship of the Brazilian national team by the Nike sportswear company (when the CBF president was infamous Ricardo Teixeira, also then a FIFA exco member).
Warner, who was president of CONCACAF for 20 years and an immensely influential powerbroker within FIFA, was targeted by Lynch – though she did not name him precisely in her statement but by allusion – for profiting “from $10m in bribes over a 19-year period and amassing a personal fortune from his ill-gotten gains.”
Lynch was also at pains to justify action by the US justice authorities on the grounds that the conspirators had “used US banking and wire facilities in the United States” and profited from soccer’s “growing US market.”
CONCACAF, she said, was “plainly an organisation in crisis”. As she was speaking so FBI agents were undertaking a raid on CONCACAF”s headquarters in Miami Beach.
The allegations against Jeffrey Webb, president of CONCACAF, were described by FBI director James B Comey.
He said: “What these officials all had in common was greed . . . Some of the officials held many roles in these organisations: Jeffrey Webb is a vice-president and on the exective committee of FIFA. He also holds the role of president of CONCACAF, he’s also on the executive committee of the Carribean Football Ynion and is president of the Cayman Islands FA.
“He used his position in the various roles to solicit and collect bribes from sports marketing executives who needed his support to get contracts for tournaments.”
Comey added that the entiites at the core of the investigation were CONCACAF and CONMEBOL “but other parts of FIFA are implicated.”