Responding to allegations of corruption within FIFA, European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, said its member associations should consider whether to attend the upcoming FIFA World Congress, which the organization said “should be postponed, with new FIFA presidential elections to be organized within the next six months.”
The next step in the FIFA corruption investigation is extradition, whereby federal officials will attempt to bring suspects to the United States to face allegations they arranged bribes at meetings on U.S. soil, employed the U.S. banking system in conveying the bribes and created documents to cloak their activity, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Wednesday.
“In short, these individuals, through these organizations, engaged in bribery to decide who would televise games, where the games would be held and who would run the organization overseeing organized soccer worldwide,” she told reporters.
Among the decisions allegedly sullied by corruption, Lynch said, were the “sponsorship of the Brazilian national soccer team by a major U.S. sportswear company,” the 2011 FIFA presidential election and the placement of the 2010 World Cup.
“Around 2004, bidding began for the opportunity to host the 2010 World Cup, which was ultimately awarded to South Africa, the first time the tournament would be held on the African continent. But even for this historic event, FIFA executives and others corrupted the process by using bribes to influence the hosting decision,” she said.
Lynch spoke to reporters in New York hours after the Justice Department announced the unsealing of a 47-count indictment in a federal court in Brooklyn that detailed charges against 14 people for racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy.
The most serious are the racketeering charges, which allege that the officials turned soccer “into a criminal enterprise,” she said.
The complexity of the investigation she described was evident by the federal officials accompanying her, including a U.S. attorney, FBI Director James Comey and Richard Weber, head of the IRS Criminal Investigation division.
“This really is the World Cup of fraud, and today we are issuing FIFA a red card,” Weber said.
FIFA officials are accused of taking bribes totaling more than $150 million and in return providing “lucrative media and marketing rights” to soccer tournaments as kickbacks over the past 24 years.
“The defendants fostered a culture of corruption and greed that created an uneven playing field for the biggest sport in the world,” Comey said in a news release. “Undisclosed and illegal payments, kickbacks and bribes became a way of doing business at FIFA.”
The indictment unsealed Wednesday “is the beginning of our work, not the end” of an effort to rid global soccer of corruption, said Kelly Currie, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
In addition to the U.S. probe into corruption that Lynch earlier called “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted,” soccer’s powerful governing body also finds itself on the end of a Swiss investigation into World Cup bidding.
Swiss authorities raided FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich on Wednesday, the same day they announced an investigation into the last two awarded World Cup bids — to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022 — both of which have been under fire since the moment they were announced in 2010.