THE governing body of world football was last night plunged into crisis after several high-ranking officials were arrested as part of a widespread investigation into corruption and bribery dating back nearly a quarter of a century.
Jeffrey Webb, a vice-president of Fifa, was among seven senior executives detained as part of the US inquiry into “rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted” corruption at the highest level of the sport.
A 47-count indictment prepared by the US Department of Justice following an FBI investigation named 14 people on charges including racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy.
As well as current and former Fifa officials and senior figures at its regional confederations in North and South America, they include sports marketing executives accused of paying nearly £100 million in bribes and kickbacks for football media deals.
Fifa president Sepp Blatter, who is not among those charged, issued a statement vowing to kick out corrupt officials, however, European governing body Uefa rounded on him and called for Fifa’s presidential election tomorrow to be postponed.
Labelling the events a “disaster for Fifa” which “tarnish the image of football as a whole”, the Uefa statement reads: “These events show, once again, that corruption is deeply rooted in Fifa’s culture. There is a need for the whole of Fifa to be ‘rebooted’ and for a real reform to be carried out.”
Uefa general secretary Gianni Infantino said: “Uefa believes that the Fifa Congress should be postponed and that the election for the president should take place within six months.”
FA chairman Greg Dyke has also called for the election to be postponed and said the arrests are a “very serious” matter. He has been backed up by Scottish Football Association chief executive Stewart Regan, who has called for Mr Blatter to stand down. He said: “What has happened today underlines the need for fundamental change in how Fifa is governed.”
Meanwhile, Fifa’s sponsorship partners such as Coca-Cola, Visa and Adidas face mounting calls to put pressure on the sport’s global governing body to clean up its act.
“If you are putting many, many millions of euros into a business, then you definitely have a right and responsibility to demand that you are not tainted,” said Cobus de Swardt, the managing director of campaigning group Transparency International.
Swiss prosecutors have also opened criminal proceedings into Fifa’s controversial decision to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively. Electronic data and documents were seized yesterday from Fifa’s headquarters as part of the investigation against “persons unknown on suspicion of criminal mismanagement and of money laundering”.
According to Loretta Lynch, the US attorney general, executives from Fifa accepted bribes to help secure the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Speaking at a news conference yesterday, she said bribery also played a part in the beleaguered organisation’s 2011 presidential election – won by Mr Blatter – and the 2016 Copa Libertadores tournament.
Ms Lynch said the US investigation found that, since 1991, those involved had “corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their interests and to enrich themselves”.
She declined to answer questions about Mr Blatter, who was not named in yesterday’s indictment but is regarded by many as an out-of-touch and aloof leader of an organisation besieged by crises.
The arrests of the seven high-ranking Fifa figures were made early yesterday morning at the lakeside Baur au Lac Hotel in Zurich, while in Florida, search warrants were executed at the Miami Beach headquarters of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football.
Four individuals named in the indictment, including Chuck Blazer, a former Fifa vice-president, and two corporations have already entered guilty pleas. Investigators now plan to extradite those who have not already been arrested.
Mr Blatter had been scheduled to attend a meeting of the Confederation of African Football in a Zurich hotel yesterday, but cancelled his appearance. In Zurich, Walter de Gregoria, Fifa’s director of communications, said there would be no redraw of the Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 World Cup wins, despite the separate Swiss investigation into possible criminal mismanagement of the allocations.
Who are the Fifa defendents?
On Wednesday, the US Department of Justice indicted nine Fifa officials and five corporate executives for racketeering, conspiracy and corruption.
Jeffrey Webb (aged 50)
The highest profile of those arrested, Cayman Islander Webb is the current Fifa vice president and executive committee member, CONCACAF president and Cayman Islands Football Association (CIFA) president. Webb was one of several Fifa officials to call for the publication of the Garcia Report into allegations of corruption surrounding Russia and Qatar’s bids for the 2018 and 2022 Fifa World Cups. He is also a member of Fifa’s Strategic, Finance, Organising World Cup and Emergency Committees.
Eduardo Li (aged 56)
Current Fifa executive committee member-elect, he is the CONCACAF executive committee member and Costa Rican soccer federation (FEDEFUT) president.
Julio Rocha (aged 64)
Current Fifa development officer issued with the task of “working with Member Associations in identifying and implementing future projects within their respective regions”. Rocha is a former Central American Football Union (UNCAF) president and Nicaraguan soccer federation (FENIFUT) president.
Costas Takkas (aged 58)
Advisor to the CONCACAF president Webb and is a former CIFA general secretary. The US Department of Justice lists his nationality as United Kingdom.
Eugenio Figueredo (aged 83)
The Uruguayan is a current Fifa vice president and executive committee member. He is a former CONMEBOL president and was Uruguayan soccer federation (AUF) president from 1997 until 2006.
Rafael Esquivel (aged 68)
Current CONMEBOL executive committee member and Venezuelan soccer federation (FVF) president. He also sits on Fifa’s disciplinary committee.
Jose Maria Marin (aged 83)
Current member of the Fifa organising committee for the Olympic football tournaments. Marin was Brazilian FA president from 2012 to 2015 and was a former striker for Sao Paulo. Marin caused controversy in 2012 when he was accused of pocketing a medal during a youth football tournament. Marin was caught on camera and described the incident as “a real joke”.
Jack Warner (aged 72)
Not detained by Swiss authorities, Warner is a former Fifa vice president and executive committee member. In 2007 he described England as an “irritant”, but retracted a year later when the Three Lions agreed a friendly against Trinidad & Tobago and apologised. In 2006, after being instructed to investigate Warner by Fifa, Ernst & Young estimated that Warner’s family had made one million dollars from reselling 2006 World Cup tickets, subsequently a fine of around that figure was imposed on Warner and his family. In 2013 the CONCACAF Integrity Committee produced a report which accused Warner and his former cohort Chuck Blazer of mismanagement and massive fraud. It alleged that Warner concealed his ownership of the land on which CONCACAF’s 25 million dollar Joao Havalange Center of Excellence was built, which made him the effective owner of the building. Warner said: “As far as I am aware it is baseless and malicious. I left CONCACAF and turned my back on football two years ago. Since then I have had no interest in any football-related matter.”
Nicolas Leoz (aged 86)
Another not detained by Swiss authorities, Paraguayan Leoz is a former sports journalist and was president of CONMEBOL from 1986 until 2013. In May 2011 the then head of the FA, Lord Triesman, accused Leoz of requesting an honorary knighthood in reward for supporting a World Cup bid for England. Email correspondence later revealed Leoz asked for the FA Cup to be named after him.
Alejandro Burzaco (aged 50)
Burzaco is the controlling principle of Torneos y Competencias S.A., a sports marketing business based in Argentina, and its affiliates.They own the rights to broadcast the Argentinian Primera Division, the second tier Primera B Nacional and CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers.
Aaron Davidson (aged 44)
Davidson is president of Traffic Sports USA Inc. (Traffic USA). Its Twitter account describes the company as “Leader in sports marketing in the Americas. Representation and commercialization of top soccer properties in US and Americas”. It owns NASL side Carolina RailHawks and has other official club partners with Brazilian teams Palmeiras, Gremio, Fluminense and Atletico Mineiro as well as Manchester United. In April 2014 Traffic announced the purchase of all of CONCACAF’s sponsorship rights to become its official Corporate Partnership Agency.
Hugo and Mariano Jinkis (aged 70 and 40)
Controlling principals of Full Play Group S.A., a sports marketing business based in Argentina which was formed in 1998. Hugo is 70 and his son, Mariano is 40.
Jose Margulies (aged 75)
Margulies is the controlling principle of Valente Corp. and Somerton Ltd.