U.S. Department of Justice alleges FIFA corruption over past 24 years
U.S. prosecutors say they have uncovered a dozen different schemes while investigating corruption at FIFA, the world football body -- and that some of those schemes involved the awarding of the 2010 World Cup to South Africa.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said at a news conference that bribery and corruption have been marring the sport for at least 24 years as FIFA officials solicited bribes from sports marketing firms and others surrounding its marquee events.
Lynch spoke on Wednesday in New York as U.S. federal charges were unveiled against 14 people, including nine former or current FIFA officials, in a sweeping investigation. She said the extradition process was already underway but stressed that there are no allegations that football games or tournaments were influenced by corruption.
The Swiss justice ministry says U.S. authorities now have 40 days to submit a formal extradition request to Switzerland for six of seven FIFA officials arrested in a FIFA corruption probe, adding that six of those seven plan to fight extradition.
U.S. officials said those arrested include FIFA vice presidents Jeffrey Webb from the Cayman Islands and Eugenio Figueredo of Uruguay; as well as Eduardo Li of Costa Rica, Julio Rocha of Nicaragua, Costas Takkas of Britain, Rafael Esquivel of Venezuela and Jose Maria Marin of Brazil.
Nine of the 14 who were indicted by the Justice Department are football officials, while four are sports marketing executives, and another works in broadcasting. On Wednesday, FIFA banned 11 from football-related activities, including Webb, Li, Rocha, Takkas, Jack Warner, Figueredo, Esquivel, Marin, Leoz, Blazer and Daryll Warner.
Swiss officials did not name the person who agreed to purse simplified extradition. That person could be handed over to U.S. authorities immediately.
Lynch also said investigators have found $110 million in bribes linked to the planning of the 2016 Copa America, which is being held in the U.S. for the first time. She said the schemes involved officials at both CONCACAF and CONMEBOL. Swiss prosecutors, meanwhile, announced criminal proceedings on Wednesday into FIFA's awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
Lynch said that, beginning in 1991, those involved "corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their interests and to enrich themselves ... They did this over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament."
CONCACAF and CONMEBOL both said via statements that they will fully cooperate with the investigation.
"CONCACAF continues to operate in the ordinary course of business, hosting all of its upcoming tournaments in a successful and timely manner, including the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup," the CONCACAF statement said.
Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Kelly T. Currie said nine of the schemes uncovered involved sports marketing companies seeking a piece of the lucrative business surrounding FIFA events.
Currie said corrupt FIFA officials solicited bribes from sports marketing companies, which often made tens of millions in profits from football tournaments such as the World Cup.
He said U.S. officials want "to send a message around the world that this behaviour will not be tolerated, adding: "Our message to FIFA and soccer is our investigation is going to continue. What FIFA does internally is a matter for them but law enforcement in the U.S. are not going to tolerate this corrupt conduct going forward."
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Lynch said FIFA's looming presidential election -- set for Friday -- played no role in the timing of U.S. officials' decision to unveil extensive corruption charges against key FIFA officials.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter said via statement that "we welcome the actions and the investigations by the U.S. and Swiss authorities.
"Let me be clear: such misconduct has no place in football and we will ensure that those who engage in it are put out of the game," he said.
UEFA on Wednesday called for postponement of the FIFA presidential election and said it may boycott the congress.
Lynch told reporters that prosecutors "resolve cases when the evidence comes together'' and couldn't take the forthcoming election into consideration.
Russia, meanwhile, accused the United States of acting illegally.
In a statement, Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said the arrests were "evidently another case of illegal extra-territorial implementation of American law."
Former international football official Jack Warner denied the latest corruptions allegations against him.
Warner, who represented his native Trinidad & Tobago for FIFA and is now a member of Parliament in the twin island nation, denied any wrongdoing, reaffirming previous denials when confronted with allegations of corruption during his tenure as a vice president of FIFA and president of CONCACAF, the North American regional body of the federation.
Warner was one of 14 people indicted in the U.S. on corruption charges stemming from an investigation of CONCACAF. Two of his sons have pleaded guilty to related charges. He said he has not been questioned in the probe.
Warner left football in 2011 to avoid FIFA sanctions in a bribery scandal during that year's FIFA presidential election.
"I have been afforded no due process and I have not even been questioned in this matter," he said in a statement. "I reiterate that I am innocent of any charges. I have walked away from the politics of world football to immerse myself in the improvement of lives in this country where I shall, God willing, die."
In a brief phone conversation with The Associated Press, Warner declined to comment further and said he did not have enough information about the guilty pleas of his sons to comment. "I can't say anything about what I don't know about."
Warner represents the constituency of Chaguanas West in Parliament. His term is due to expire when the session ends June 17. He can be extradited to the United States under a bilateral treaty.
Later, he told TV6 that U.S. authorities "know where to find me'' and added "I sleep very soundly in the night.''
Four men have already pleaded guilty in the U.S. football corruption investigation involving bribes totaling more than $100 million.
Chuck Blazer, for nearly two decades the most senior American official at FIFA, was among those whose guilty pleas were unsealed by U.S. authorities.
Blazer had pocketed millions of dollars in marketing commissions and avoided paying taxes. He has been a cooperating witness for the FBI since leaving soccer in 2013 and has forfeited almost $2 million.
U.S. officials say guilty pleas were also given by Daryan Warner and Daryll Warner, sons of former senior FIFA official Warner; and Jose Hawilla, an executive of the Brazil-based sports marketing firm Traffic Sports.
U.S. officials say Hawilla has agreed to forfeit more than $151 million.
They face maximum jail terms of incarceration of 20 years for "the RICO conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering conspiracy, money laundering and obstruction of justice charges."
An arrest warrant was issued in Trinidad and Tobago on Wednesday for Jack Warner at the request of U.S. authorities, the attorney general of the twin island Caribbean nation said.
The two countries have an extradition treaty. The statement said it would "ensure that Mr. Warner's rights are respected."
North American Soccer League's Board of Governors also suspended chairman Aaron Davidson, along with all business activities between the league and Traffic Sports on Wednesday, announcing that commissioner Bill Peterson would assume Davidson's responsibilities.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.