14 defendants including high- ranking officials of the FIFA were charged Wednesday by U.S. Department of Justice with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies, enriching themselves through the corruption of international soccer.
The charges were announced by top U.S. enforcement officials. The defendants include officials of the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the organization responsible for the regulation and promotion of soccer worldwide, as well as leading officials of other soccer governing bodies that operate under the FIFA umbrella.
“This is the World Cup of fraud and today we are issuing FIFA a red card,” said Richard Weber, Chief of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation.
The defendants also include U.S. and South American sports marketing executives who are alleged to have systematically paid and agreed to pay well over 150 million dollars in bribes and kickbacks to obtain lucrative media and marketing rights to international soccer tournaments.
Earlier this morning, Swiss authorities in Zurich arrested several top soccer officials and will extradite them to U.S. on federal charges.
U.S. official said they fostered a culture of corruption and greed that created an uneven playing field for the biggest sport in the world.
“The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch. “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. ”
She said the corruption has profoundly harmed a multitude of victims, from the youth leagues and developing countries that should benefit from the revenue generated by the commercial rights these organizations hold, to the fans at home and throughout the world whose support for the game makes those rights valuable.
“Department of Justice intends to end any such corrupt practices, to root out misconduct, and to bring wrongdoers to justice – and we look forward to continuing to work with other countries in this effort,” She added.
A 47-cout indictment was unsealed on Wednesday charging defendants like FIFA Vice Presidents Jeffrey Webb and Eugenio Figueredo, former FIFA Vice President Jack Warner and other top soccer officials. The U.S. requested the extradition of seven of them.
“After decades of what the indictment alleges to be brazen corruption, organized 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, increasingly so here in the United States. Let me be clear: this indictment is not the final chapter in our investigation,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Kelly T. Currie of the Eastern District of New York.
“Undisclosed and illegal payments, kickbacks, and bribes became a way of doing business at FIFA. I want to commend the investigators and prosecutors around the world who have pursued this case so diligently, for so many years.” said James Comey, Director of Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“Corruption, tax evasion and money laundering are certainly not the cornerstones of any successful business. 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,” Weber said.
He promised that IRS will continue to investigate financial crimes and follow the money wherever it may lead around the world, leveling the playing field for those who obey the law.”