In no uncertain terms, U.S. officials said that their ongoing investigation of FIFA is just starting, and that it will be aggressively chasing organization officials accused of different forms of corruption.
“These individuals and organizations engaged in bribery to decide who would televise games, where the games would be held, and who would run the organization overseeing organized soccer worldwide,” said U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, speaking to reporters earlier today. She noted that several FIFA decisions were tainted by corruption, including 2010’s World Cup placement, 2011’s FIFA presidential elections, and a recent Brazilian national soccer team sponsorship that involved “a major U.S. sportswear company.”
“Around 2004, bidding began for the opportunity to host the 2010 World Cup, which was ultimately awarded to South Africa, the first time the tournament would be 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,” explained Lynch, referring to the World Cup placement fiasco. This was, however, denied by the South African Football Association, who said that it was “men of high integrity” that brought the World Cup to the country, including former Presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki. “The bidding process was never compromised,” added spokesman Dominic Chimhavi.
Multiple federal agencies are currently working with Lynch on the FIFA case, and some of the individuals looking into the probe definitely have clout. One of these federal officials, IRS Criminal Investigation division head Richard Weber, quipped that they are dealing with the “World Cup of fraud,” and that they hope to issue FIFA a “red card” once they get to the bottom of things. The FIFA officials in question are accused of taking bribes of over $150 million, providing kickbacks in exchange for “lucrative media and marketing rights” since the early ‘90s.
“The defendants fostered a culture of corruption and greed that created an uneven playing field for the biggest sport in the world,” said FBI Director James Comey, on a far more serious note than the aforementioned Weber. “Undisclosed and illegal payments, kickbacks and bribes became a way of doing business at FIFA.”
While current FIFA President Sepp Blatter was not named in the investigation, 14 other high-ranking officials are being charged by U.S. federal authorities. According to a New York Times report, the officials include Eduardo Li, Jeffrey Webb, Eugenio Figueredo, Jack Warner, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Rafael Esquivel, José Maria Marin, and Nicolás Leoz. Officials believe Blatter’s chances of being reelected as president of the soccer governing organization would “depend on where the investigation goes from here.”
In a statement prepared and published on FIFA’s official website, Blatter said that corruption “has no place in football” and that the organization will “ensure that those who engage in it are put out of the game.” He added that FIFA will “continue to work with the relevant authorities and we will work vigorously within FIFA in order to root out any misconduct, to regain your trust and ensure that football worldwide is free from wrongdoing.”