Crime & Justice

FIFA corruption: $150M in bribes, dozen schemes, prosecutors say

The FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland. On Wednesday, Swiss police raided a Zurich hotel to detain top FIFA officials as part of a U.S. investigation into corruption.
The FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland. On Wednesday, Swiss police raided a Zurich hotel to detain top FIFA officials as part of a U.S. investigation into corruption.
Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images

1:43 p.m.: Nike says it's cooperating with authorities in FIFA probe

Nike says it is cooperating with authorities in the U.S. probe into corruption of FIFA, the governing body of soccer worldwide.

On Wednesday U.S. officials charged seven FIFA members with racketeering and corruption charges and announced a sweeping investigation into corruption. Swiss officials also invaded FIFA headquarters, seizing records and computers to investigate whether the decisions to award World Cups to Russia and Qatar were rigged.

Nike is not an official FIFA sponsor. But it pays to have the Brazilian and other countries' national teams wear its shirts and other gear. This is the first time it has acknowledged that it has been contacted in the investigation.

Nike did not address anything specific in the investigation. It said it is "strongly opposed to any form of manipulation or bribery."

Some official sponsors including McDonald's also said Wednesday they are in contact with authorities.

No specific companies are mentioned in the Justice Department allegations. But they allege that an unnamed multinational sportswear company headquartered in the U.S. bribed marketing executives in order to win a 10-year sponsorship deal with the Brazilian National Team in 1996, the same year Nike signed a $400 million sponsorship agreement with the Brazil national team.

— The Associated Press

12:20 p.m.: FIFA suspends 11 people over soccer corruption cases

FIFA has suspended 11 people, including two of its vice presidents, from all football-related activities following a U.S. criminal investigation into corruption in world soccer.

The vice presidents — Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands and Eugenio Figueredo of Uruguay — were arrested in Zurich early Wednesday after being indicted in the U.S.

FIFA ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert says "the charges are clearly related to football."

The other people suspended by FIFA's ethics committee including former executive committee members Jack Warner, Nicolas Leoz and Chuck Blazer.

The others are Costa Rican soccer federation president Eduardo Li, Venezuela FA chief Rafael Esquivel, former Brazilian FA chief Jose Maria Marin, Costas Takkas, who works for CONCACAF President Webb, FIFA development officer Julio Rocha and Warner's son Daryll.

— The Associated Press

12:12 p.m.: $150M in bribes, dozen schemes

The leaders of soccer federations corrupted the sport for nearly a quarter century by taking $150 million in bribes and payoffs, U.S. prosecutors said Wednesday as they laid out a sweeping case involving over a dozen people and marquee events as the World Cup.

"They were expected to uphold the rules that keep soccer honest and to protect the integrity of the game," U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in announcing indictments of nine current and former officials with global soccer governing body FIFA, four sports marketing executives and an accused intermediary. "Instead, they 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," she said.

The racketeering case was among developments that rocked the soccer world Wednesday, when Swiss prosecutors opened criminal proceedings into FIFA's awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and FIFA braced for a presidential election set for Friday.

With soccer officials gathered in Zurich for election, seven of the U.S. defendants were arrested there, including FIFA vice presidents Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands and Eugenio Figueredo of Uruguay. Six of those arrested were opposing extradition to the U.S., the Swiss justice ministry said, without naming them.

Seven others had yet to be arrested, including former FIFA Vice President Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago. He said in a statement he is innocent.

"I have not even been questioned in this matter," he said.

Prosecutors also revealed that four other people, including two of Warner's sons and former FIFA official Charles Blazer, had pleaded guilty in the case.

Starting in 1991, the defendants and unnamed co-conspirators engaged in 12 different schemes, most involving marketing and media rights to various events, said Lynch and the acting U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, Kelly Currie.

TV and marketing rights are big business for FIFA, representing 70 percent of its $5.7 billion in 2011-2014 revenues. Sports marketing companies can make tens of millions of dollars in profits as middlemen between the soccer organization and the broadcasters and sponsors that want to buy the rights. Keen to keep that business, sports marketing executives agreed to shell out more than $150 million in payoffs and kickbacks, prosecutors said.

They said other schemes involved choosing the 2010 World Cup host country and the site for FIFA's presidential election the next year. Ahead of the vote that awarded the 2010 tournament site to South Africa, Warner directed an unnamed co-conspirator to fly to Paris to "accept a briefcase containing bundles of U.S. currency in $10,000 stacks in a hotel room from a high-ranking South African bid committee official," the indictment said.

The U.S. investigators didn't allege that corruption tainted the outcomes of soccer matches.

Lynch said FIFA's upcoming presidential election played no role in the timing of the arrests. Still, U.S. officials want "to send a message around the world that this behavior will not be tolerated," Currie said.

Added Lynch: "I think FIFA has a lot of soul-searching to do."

— Associated Press reporters Tom Hays and Jennifer Peltz. Associated Press writer Tony Fraser in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, contributed to this report.

6:37 a.m.: Top FIFA officials arrested in Switzerland on US corruption charges

Seven soccer officials from FIFA, the sport's international governing body, were arrested early Wednesday morning by police in Zurich, Switzerland. Charged with bribery and other crimes, they were taken from the Baur au Lac, the luxury hotel on Lake Zurich where they were staying.

The Swiss Department of Justice and Police said the arrests were made at the request of the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District of New York. According to the agency, the U.S. alleges the officials accepted bribes and kickbacks from the mid-1990s to the present day.

"Jeffrey Webb and Jack Warner — the current and former presidents of CONCACAF, the continental confederation under FIFA headquartered in the United States — are among the soccer officials charged with racketeering and bribery offenses," the U.S. Justice Department says.

[See the full list of those indicted at the bottom of this post.]

The seven people arrested today are among nine senior FIFA officials — including two of the group's current vice presidents — the U.S. has indicted. Charges in the 47-count indictment include bribery, racketeering, money laundering, and wire fraud. Five U.S. and South American corporate executives were also indicted.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch says:

"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."

The U.S. attorney's charges were first reported by The New York Times.

Also Wednesday morning, Swiss federal prosecutors opened an investigation into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which were awarded to Russia and Qatar, respectively. But FIFA also reiterated that it won't consider moving those tournaments.

At a news conference today, FIFA spokesman Walter de Gregorio said the organization's president, Sepp Blatter of Switzerland, was not a target of the investigations and that Friday's election for FIFA president would go ahead as scheduled. Blatter is being challenged by Jordanian Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein.

The U.S. is requesting the extradition of the seven officials. Swiss authorities said the detainees will be questioned Wednesday and have the right to contest their extradition.

Fourteen people were indicted in the U.S. case. An additional four individuals and two corporations had earlier pleaded guilty under seal. In those arrangements, at least three people forfeited more than $1 million — including one, Brazilian sports executive José Hawilla, who agreed to hand over $151 million.

According to the Swiss Federal Department of Justice and Police, the U.S. says others are accused of bribing the officials:

"The bribery suspects — representatives of sports media and sports promotion firms — are alleged to have been involved in schemes to make payments to the soccer functionaries — delegates of FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) and other functionaries of FIFA sub-organizations — totaling more than USD 100 million. In return, it is believed that they received media, marketing, and sponsorship rights in connection with soccer tournaments in Latin America. According to the US request, these crimes were agreed and prepared in the US, and payments were carried out via US banks."

In the investigation concerning Russia and Qatar, Swiss authorities raided FIFA's headquarters early this morning, seizing electronic data and documents. Swiss prosecutors said they will interview 10 FIFA executive committee members who took part in the votes to award the World Cup to Russia and Qatar.

FIFA spokesman de Gregorio said FIFA had gone to Swiss authorities in November with concerns that the bidding process was corrupt.

"This is the consequences of what we initiated," said de Gregorio. "So it's a surprise that it happened today, but it's not a surprise that it happened.

"We cannot investigate as the police can or a general prosecutor can. So that's the reason why we did it and that's the reason why we fully cooperate."

FIFA governs the world's most popular sport. The multibillion-dollar organization has been accused of bribery and corruption for decades.

The 14 people indicted (descriptions from the Justice Dept.):

FIFA:

​Executives:

The cases of the people and corporations that previously pleaded guilty date back to 2013. They include:

— Bill Chappell and Mark Katkov/NPR

This story has been updated.