A 47-count indictment was unsealed on Wednesday, May 27 in federal court in Brooklyn charging 14 defendants with racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering conspiracies, among other offenses, in connection with the defendants’ participation in a 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer. The guilty pleas of four individual defendants and two corporate defendants were also unsealed on Wednesday.
The defendants charged in the indictment include high-ranking officials of the Fédération 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. The defendants Jeffrey Webb and Jack Warner — the current and former presidents CONCACAF, the continental confederation under FIFA headquartered in the United States — are among the soccer officials charged with racketeering and bribery offenses. 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 in bribes and kickbacks to obtain lucrative media and marketing rights to international soccer tournaments.
The charges were announced by Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch; Kelly T. Currie, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); Diego W. Rodriguez, Assistant Director-in-Charge, FBI, New York Field Office; Richard Weber, Chief, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Criminal Investigation; and Special Agent in Charge Erick Martinez, IRS Criminal Investigation, Los Angeles Field Office.
On Wednesday morning Swiss authorities in Zurich arrested seven of the defendants charged in the indictment, the defendants Jeffrey Webb, Eduardo Li, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Eugenio Figueredo, Rafael Esquivel, and José Maria Marin, at the request of the United States.
The guilty pleas of the four individual and two corporate defendants that were also unsealed yesterday include the guilty pleas of Charles Blazer, the long-serving former general secretary of CONCACAF and former U.S. representative on the FIFA executive committee; José Hawilla, the owner and founder of the Traffic Group, a multinational sports marketing conglomerate headquartered in Brazil; and two of Hawilla’s companies, Traffic Sports International, Inc. and Traffic Sports USA, Inc., which is based in Florida.
“The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States,” said Attorney General 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. And it 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. Today’s action makes clear that this 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.” Attorney General Lynch extended her grateful appreciation to the authorities of the government of Switzerland, as well as several other international partners, for their outstanding assistance in this investigation.
“Today’s announcement should send a message that enough is enough. 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,” stated Acting United States Attorney Currie. Currie extended his thanks to the agents, analysts, and other investigative personnel with the FBI New York Eurasian Joint Organized Crime Squad and the IRS Criminal Investigation Los Angeles Field Office, as well as their colleagues abroad, for their tremendous effort in this case.
“As charged in the indictment, the defendants fostered a culture of corruption and greed that created an uneven playing field for the biggest sport in the world. 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 FBI Director Comey.
“When leaders in an organization resort to cheating the very members that they are supposed to represent, they must be held accountable,” said IRS Criminal Investigation Chief Weber. “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. IRS CI 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.”
The charges in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.