Earlier this week, a defiantly confident Sepp Blatter appeared all but certain to win a fifth term as FIFA president during today's election in Zurich.
But then came the 164-page indictment issued Wednesday by the US Justice Department. The document presents exhaustive allegations about dozens of bribes that were either laundered through US financial institutions, affected the business of US entities, were negotiated on US soil, or all three.
What the allegations largely boil down to is a series of enrichment schemes between regional soccer officials, many of whom sat on FIFA's executive committee, or exco, and private companies who were sold control of radio, television, and advertising rights to major soccer tournaments between 1991 and last year.
Officials came and went, as did businessmen, but bribery remained a constant for nearly 25 years. The payments were turned into expensive paintings, homes, a swimming pool in Georgia, bundles of cash for officials further down the trough and, in the case of former US soccer official Chuck Blazer, a $6,000 a month apartment in New York City's Trump Towers mostly for the use of his cats. (Not making that up.)
Mr. Blazer, former general secretary of CONCACAF (the FIFA federation for Central and North America and the Caribbean), has been cooperating with the FBI and prosecutors for a few years now. His testimony – along with those from a handful of other officials and businessmen who secretly entered guilty pleas two years ago – is at the center of the government's claims against FIFA bigwigs.
Here are some of the key players at the center of the controversy.
Mr. Warner, former CONCACAF President and FIFA exco member from Trinidad and Tobago, could fairly be described as the kingpin of the indictment. He is alleged to have stolen millions of dollars. Much of the evidence against him appears to come from the testimony of Blazer, his long time aide. Blazer is described as "co-conspirator #1 throughout," but the description of his job titles make his identity clear.
The indictment alleges Warner took bribes connected to selecting France as host for 1998 World Cup and South Africa for 2010; that he embezzled money from FIFA and CONCACAF to buy a Miami condominium in 2005; and that he was bribed along with Blazer by Traffic, a company run by the Brazilian Jose Hawila, for control of the Gold Cup – CONCACAF's biennial regional tournament – between 1996 and 2003.
In the early 2000s, when South Africa was bidding to host the 2006 World Cup (it failed, but then hosted in 2010), Warner is alleged to have instructed one of his sons to fly to Paris. Once there, he allegedly met with a "high-ranking South African bid committee official" who handed him "a briefcase containing bundles of US currency in $10,000 stacks." The son allegedly flew home to Trinidad and Tobago hours later with the cash. Warner's sons Daryll and Daryan have already pleaded guilty to the US charges and appear to be cooperating.
Ahead of the 2004 vote on who would host the 2010 World Cup, Warner is alleged to have arranged with "high ranking officials of FIFA" and within the South African government and its bid committee to accept a $10 million payment from South Africa allegedly "in support (of) the African diaspora." Blazer told US investigators that Warner agreed to give him $1 million of that money, and that his understanding was that the money was for a vote in favor of South Africa's bid.
According to Warner, the South Africans never paid. Instead "FIFA officials" ended up in 2008 diverting $10 million of FIFA funds originally intended to support the South African World Cup effort to a Bank of America account in New York City. The money was ostensibly for CONCACAF and its Caribbean sub-region, but was ultimately controlled by Warner. The indictment alleges that $2 million of the money was diverted to Warner's personal use – and that he eventually paid $750,000 to Blazer.
Warner was also allegedly involved in trying to fix the FIFA presidential election in 2011, along with another FIFA exco member, Mohamed bin Hammam. That effort, involving envelopes stuffed with $40,000 for each participant from Hammam and a $360,000 payment directly to Warner, has been known since a video of Warner explaining the "gift" and its purpose leaked a few weeks later, including his admonishment of subordinates for mentioning the vote buying to other soccer officials in New York:
"What I am telling you even Mr. Blatter is aware of, no secret," Warner said then. "I told Blatter also what he gets as well... I know there are some people here who think they are more pious than thou. If you are pious go to a church friends, but the fact is our business is our business."
That was the end for Warner. He quit in disgrace soon after, and Blazer was not far behind him. But little changed.
In May 2012, Mr. Webb, a Cayman Islander, was elected as Warner's replacement at CONCACAF. That July, Enrique Sanz de Santamaria, "co-conspirator #4," was named general secretary. Webb and Mr. Sanz, who had been a vice president of Traffic, got straight to work. They allegedly negotiated a $3 million bribe in exchange for a deal to sell the World Cup marketing rights of Caribbean nations. An American employee of Traffic named Aaron Davidson was also allegedly involved in that bribe and has been indicted.
That same year, Sanz and Webb also allegedly secured a $1.1 million bribe from Mr. Hawila to give Traffic the rights to the 2012 Gold Cup, held on US soil, and to the regional champion's league for professional clubs. That bribe was allegedly laundered through a business only identified as "Soccer Uniform Company A," which used a bank in Panama for the purpose.
Traffic and 'best players'
Hawila is called "co-conspirator #2 in the indictment. He allegedly developed a relationship with Nicolas Leoz, former president of CONMEBOL, the South American confederation, in the early 1990s and obtained exclusive rights to a variety of South American tournaments, among then Copa America. The indictment alleges that he paid "tens of millions of dollars" to Mr. Leoz and other CONMEBOL officials for ongoing control of tournament marketing and "sponsorship rights acquired by United States sportswear companies."
Hawila's Traffic is at the center of many of the allegations. One interesting tidbit that calls into doubt the integrity of FIFA-sanctioned competitions is the claim that "since the 1990s" Hawila has paid the Argentina Football Association "millions of dollars" for each Copa America, the South American tournament for national teams, "so that AFA would field its best players."
The reason why is obvious. More glamorous names mean more interest in the games, which adds up to more eyeballs and more sponsorship dollars.
For years conspiracies have swirled that advertisers and other sponsors have had serious influence over international team selections. Most famous is the conspiracy theory that Nike leaned on Brazil to field then-star Ronaldo, a center of the company's soccer advertising at the time, in the 1998 World Cup final. Ronaldo had suffered a seizure before kick-off but started all the same. He was dreadful on the pitch, and heavily-favored Brazil lost to France, the host nation.
The indictment alleges that when Nike signed a $160 million agreement to sponsor Brazil's national team for 10 years in 1996, the deal was structured in such a way that allowed Brazilian officials to divert some of that cash to Traffic Brazil, which in turn was paying bribes to Brazilian officials. Nike also agreed to pay an additional $40 million into a Swiss bank account controlled by Traffic.
The indictment only refers to Nike as "Sportswear Company A," but the 10-year deal signed with the Brazilian soccer federation in 2006 is a matter of public record. On Wednesday, Nike issued a statement noting that it has been cooperating with authorities.
The bribe cartel
In 2013, a new company named Datisa was founded involving Hawila, Alejandro Buzaco, Hugo Jinkis, and Mariano Jinkis. Datisa went on to pay $110 million in bribes in exchange for control of CONMEBOL and CONCACAF marketing rights. The bribes are alleged to have gone to, among others, CONCACAF President Webb, CONMEBOL President Eugenio Figueredo, CONMEBOL official Rafael Esquivel, FIFA official and Brazil federation head Jose Maria Marin, and Leoz, the former CONMEBOL president. The indictment alleges that the bribes were to be paid in installments and that $40 million has been delivered so far. Every president of CONMEBOL's member nations was promised a taste, with the smallest payments to be $1.5 million.
The bribes, according to the US indictment, amounted to 30 percent of the official price of the contract.
Mr. Figueredo is one of the more colorful figures in the indictment. In 2005, when he was still running South American soccer and serving on FIFA's executive committee, he applied for naturalization as a US citizen. According to the indictment, he claimed in his application that his only income came from working at a "Sunburst Decorative Rock" in Irwindale, Cal. and that he had no formal affiliations with any organization anywhere. He requested exemption from passing a US civics exam and English proficiency test because he was suffering from "severe dementia." The US alleges all his statements were lies.