Near the beginning of the 161-page indictment, a telling sentence offers a glimpse of what is to come. It says that the Fifa officials and the other defendants, who mainly worked for large sports marketing companies which sold the rights to tournaments, conspired with one another to co-ordinate schemes “involving the solicitation, offer, acceptance, payment, and receipt of undisclosed and illegal payments, bribes, and kickbacks”.
While acknowledging that they managed to do this while also keeping Fifa on track with its goals of promoting football in developing countries and holding world class tournaments, the document says they ultimately “corrupted the enterprise” through their extensive criminal activities.
They were able to get away with it by using a series of “trusted intermediaries” –including bankers, financial advisors and currency dealers –to facilitate illicit payments, the document says. They also used shell companies and bank accounts in tax havens, smuggled cash in bulk and made use of safe deposit boxes.
The indictment points out that the damage the men did to the game of football was “far-reaching”. By pocketing so much of the cash generated by the sport through marketing rights, the men deprived national teams, youth leagues, and development programmes all over the world of what was rightfully theirs, it says.
“The corruption of the enterprise became endemic,” the document adds.
The racketeering conspiracy
Former Fifa vice president Jack Warner is the first defendant whose illegal activities are discussed in detail. The indictment says he wielded “power and influence” within Fifa from 1983 to 2011, rising through the ranks with the help of Chuck Blazer, who was general secretary of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (Concacaf) for 21 years and whose “fortunes rose” alongside Mr Warner’s.
The document states that Mr Warner controlled numerous bank accounts in Trinidad and Tobago, mingling his personal assets with those of Concacaf. Having laid this groundwork, from the early 1990s onwards he began to “leverage his influence and exploit his official positions for personal gain”, the indictment says.
As well as accepting bribes in connection with the 1998 and 2010 World Cup host nations, he also bought a condominium in Miami in 2005 using money partly drawn from Fifa’s Financial Assistance Programme, which was supposed to be used to fund the development of new football youth academies and pitches.
The next defendant to be mentioned is Nicolas Leoz, who became president of the South American Football Confederation (Conmebol) in 1986. During his presidency, Conmebol developed a “lucrative commercial relationship” with the sports marketing company Traffic, whose founder, José Hawilla, is alleged to have paid officials tens of millions of dollars in bribes to secure the rights to the Copa América as well as other South American tournaments. José Margulies, another defendant, was often used as an intermediary to facilitate the payments, the indictment says.
When Hawilla moved to the US, he approached Warner and Blazer and bribed them in order to acquire the rights to five Concacaf Gold Cups played between 1996 and 2003 for Traffic. As the firm expanded in the late 1990s and 2000s, it engaged in “bribery and fraud” to obtain rights from various football federations including Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, the document states. The corruption was organised by Aaron Davidson, another defendant and the president of Traffic Sports USA, with the money going to Warner as well as Eduardo Li, the president of the Costa Rican Football Federation, and Julio Rocha, the then president of the Nicaraguan Football Federation.
Resignations - but the corruption continues
Warner and Leoz were forced to resign after corruption allegations surfaced in 2011. But the indictment states that the change of personnel “did not usher in an era of reform” at Fifa. “Instead, the new leadership continued to engage in criminal schemes in violation of their fiduciary duties.”
Jeffrey Webb succeeded Warner as head of Concacaf in 2012. According to the indictment, before he was elected he was given $50,000 by Enrique Sanz de Santamaría, an executive at Traffic USA identified only as “Co-Conspirator #4” in the indictment as he is not a defendant, who routed the money through a company in the Cayman Islands controlled by defendant Costas Takkas, a close associate of Webb.
After being elected, Webb immediately appointed Santamaría as general secretary of Concacaf. “Upon assuming their respective positions, Webb and [Santamaría] made public pronouncements about reforming Concacaf. Almost immediately after taking office, however, both men resumed their involvement in criminal schemes,” it says.
The 12 corrupt schemes
The US indictment also spells out 12 different schemes where the Fifa officials conspired to obtain bribes and kickbacks in exchange for the TV or marketing rights to tournaments including the Copa América, the South American national team championships and the world’s longest continuously running football tournament, the Copa do Brasil, or Brazilian Cup, as well as the Caribbean and central American World Cup qualifying tournaments.
It also details a corrupt scheme to solicit bribes for the sale of rights to the Concacaf Gold Cup played between national teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean and the Champions League in which the region’s top club sides compete.
A special centenary tournament of the Copa América, set to be hosted in the US next year, was also the subject of intense negotiations about bribe paying, it says. When the deal was signed in London in 2013 it included an agreement to pay $100m in bribes to several Fifa officials including defendant José Marin, the former president of the Brazilian Football Federation.
The document also makes clear that the machinery for paying bribes once deals were agreed did not always run smoothly. In 2004, Warner told friends that when he travelled to Morocco to consider their bid for the 2010 World Cup he had been offered a $1m bribe to vote for them. But Morocco was outbid by South Africa, the eventual hosts.
Warner said he had agreed to vote for South Africa after they offered $10m to the Caribbean Football Union to “support the African diaspora”, promising $1m of the bribe to Concacaf General Secretary Chuck Blazer, the indictment says.
In the months after the vote, Blazer asked Warner about the money and was told that the South Africans were unable to arrange for the payment to be made directly from government funds. Instead, a deal was done and Fifa officials arranged to have the $10m sent directly from Fifa – using funds that would otherwise have gone to South Africa to support the World Cup – to an account in New York.
Warner then had a proportion of the funds diverted into his personal accounts by laundering them through intermediaries. In one instance, $1.4m was transferred to a Trinidadian businessman who owned a large supermarket chain. A few weeks later, the businessman deposited cheques totalling about the same amount into Warner’s personal account and that of a family member.
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