FIFA corruption scandal: FBI probe how 2018 and 2022 World Cups were awarded to Russia and Qatar, says report

Development comes a day after Sepp Blatter said he was standing down as FIFA boss

Andrew Buncombe
Thursday 04 June 2015 07:10
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Sepp Blatter holds up the name of Russia during the official announcement of the 2018 World Cup host country on December 2, 2010
Sepp Blatter holds up the name of Russia during the official announcement of the 2018 World Cup host country on December 2, 2010

The FBI's investigation of FIFA includes a probe of how football’s governing awarded the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 competition to Qatar, it was reported on Wednesday.

Reuters said that an unidentified US law enforcement official said that a review of the awards to host the tournament would be part of a probe that is looking beyond the allegations in an indictment announced a week ago. Swiss prosecutors said then that they were investigating the 2018 and 2022 bids.

The development came a day after it was reported that the FBI was also investigating Sepp Blatter, who announced he would be standing down as FIFA’s chairman.

The New York Times said that while Mr Blatter had in recent days sought to distance himself from the inquiry that had seen a number of his colleagues detained, a number of US officials had confirmed he was himself the subject of an inquiry.

Reuters said the FBI has been looking at the Qatar bid at least since September 2011. Investigators reportedly interviewed a former Qatar bid employee who said she was present when the Qatar bid organisation paid $1.5m to three African members of FIFA's executive committee to secure their votes for Qatar.

Later, the former employee, Phaedra Almajid, made a sworn statement recanting her allegations, but later still she told the FBI that representatives of the Qatar bid had pressured her to do so. Ms Almajid declined to comment on the indictments, the news agency said.

On Wednesday, in response to questions from The Independent about the scope of its inquiries, the FBI said: “Thanks for your inquiry, but we do not confirm, deny, or otherwise comment on ongoing investigations.”

The Times claimed those who have been indicted could be used to provide evidence about the FIFA president. Last week, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the federal investigation that has resulted in the arrest of FIFA officials in Zurich was “ongoing”.

“Several United States officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that in their efforts to build a case against Mr Blatter they were hoping to win the cooperation of some of the FIFA officials now under indictment and work their way up the organisation,” the paper said.

There has been widespread speculation that this could involve information provided to federal investigators by Chuck Blazer, the former senior FIFA official who has turned “whistleblower”. Some reports said Blazer’s testimony – so far held under seal - could be made public.

Last week, it that Blazer had played a crucial role in the still-expanding corruption investigation into soccer’s global body. Having been exposed several years ago by the US’s Internal Revenue Service, the 70-year-old apparently agreed to wear a hidden wire during meetings with FIFA officials.

Blazer, who reportedly has cancer, pleaded guilty to a number of charges, including racketeering, wire fraud, income tax evasion and money laundering, according to the US Department of Justice.

At a hastily arranged news conference Tuesday, Mr Blatter announced he would leave office within months and called for a fresh election to appoint a successor.

“I cherish FIFA more than anything and I want to do only what is best for FIFA and for football,” said Mr Blatter.

Department of Justice, which last week brought charges against 14 officials, has also declined to say whether or not Mr Blatter was under investigation.

The Swiss attorney general said Mr Blatter was not under investigation in Switzerland, but authorities said last week they have opened a criminal probe into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding votes.

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