The FIFA corruption investigation: Who will it snare next?
Both US and Swiss investigations into the world soccer organization appear to be expanding, and could be closing in on embattled president Sepp Blatter
Separate investigations from US and Swiss authorities appear to be inching closer to embattled FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
In a joint press conference today in Zurich, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch and her Swiss counterpart, Michael Lauber, gave updates on their respective investigations into world soccer’s governing body.
Zurich is FIFA’s home city, and Ms. Lynch used the press conference to announce that her department anticipates "pursuing additional charges against individuals and entities."
Lynch’s Department of Justice investigation began in stunning fashion on May 27 when seven FIFA executives were arrested days before the FIFA presidential election. That same day her department announced charges against 14 soccer and marketing officials and unsealed six guilty pleas in a $150 million bribery and racketeering conspiracy.
Sepp Blatter was not among the officials named in the 164-page indictment, and Lynch did not comment on whether he is targeted in the ongoing investigation. Mr. Blatter has yet to be charged with a crime, and has denied any wrongdoing, but the Swiss investigation suggests that charges from elsewhere may be imminent.
Mr. Lauber provided details on information gleaned from evidence seized from properties in the Swiss Alps during house searches. The investigation was originally focusing on a criminal complaint about the bidding contests for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which were awarded to Russia and Qater respectively. Now, the investigation appears to be expanding. Lauber said a total of 121 different bank accounts have been reported as suspicious by a Swiss financial intelligence unit.
"Investment in real estate can be used for the purpose of money laundering," Lauber said.
The press conference also came after a report on Friday from Swiss broadcaster SRF that Blatter knowingly undersold television rights for the 2010 and 2014 World Cups to the Caribbean in exchange for political support. The report alleges that in a 2005 contract FIFA signed over the media rights for the tournaments for $600,000, and that Jack Warner, then-head of the Caribbean soccer federation, then transferred the rights to his own company and resold them in a deal with between $15 million and $20 million.
SRF posted excerpts of the contract on its website showing that Blatter and Warner had signed it themselves.
Mr. Warner – who is named in the US indictment but has remained in Trinidad ever since, vowing to fight the charges against him – has said in the past that he had evidence he was "gifted" World Cup broadcasting rights in his region a number of times, including for the 2010 and 2014 tournaments, in exchange for securing voters for Blatter’s campaigns for FIFA president. Blatter has been FIFA president since 1998, during which he has won four elections. He has said he will remain in office until a special presidential election can be held, but that he won’t run again. Warner left professional soccer in 2011 after serving as president of the regional soccer confederation CONCACAF for 21 years and as a FIFA executive committee member.
FIFA has dismissed Warner’s claims as false and said the television rights deals had nothing to do with Blatter’s election campaigns. FIFA has also said it terminated the contract in 2011 after the Caribbean Football Union failed to meet its financial obligations or follow subcontracting requirements.
An attorney for Blatter also released a statement on Saturday saying the agreement with the Caribbean organization promised much more than the up-front fee, and that FIFA was to receive half of any profits related to subcontracting rights.
Reuters reported that if FIFA was due to receive substantially more then the upfront payment, it could "undercut any argument that the fee paid was substantially below market value."
Lauber’s office will investigate a contract for media rights to the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, Reuters reported on Sunday, citing two Swiss law enforcement officials. said at Monday’s press conference that his office will investigate the broadcasting contract.
Lauber addressed the SRF report on Monday, and acknowledged that his investigation could expand as they sift through all the evidence seized in the past four months.
"We have a lot of facts at the moment out of house searches and out of documents we received," he said.