KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Chuck Blazer, whose whistleblowing brought about his own downfall, has been banned for life from all football activities by FIFA’s ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert.

The American creamed off millions of dollars in commissions during 14 years as general secretary of the central and north American confederation, for much of which time he was also a member of the world federation’s executive committee and head of its crucial marketing and television commission.

Blazer, who has been seriously ill for the past two years, was described in the judgment as having “committed many and various acts of misconduct continuously and repeatedly during his time as an official in different high-ranking and influential positions at FIFA and CONCACAF.”

Blazer: soccer pioneer who went over to the dark side

The judgment was based partly on Blazer’s plea-bargain evidence to the United States Justice Department in the ongoing FIFAgate corruption investigation but also on the report by former Barbados Chief Justice Sir David Simmons into the financial mismanagement of CONCACAF during its decade in the charge of Blazer and Jack Warner, the then president.

Warner is currently facing extradition application from the USDoJ over corruption and fraud allegations which he denies.

International headlines

Though Blazer has been a larger than life figure on the United States soccer scene for more than 30 years, he hit international headlines in May 2011 when he ‘blew the whistle’ on an infamous conference of the Caribbean Football Union in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

The conference had been called to hear Qatari Mohamed Bin Hammam canvas votes for his bid to become FIFA president. After the meeting, organised by Warner, delegates were offered envelopes containing $40,000 in cash as “expenses.”

Several delegates reported this to Blazer, then in New York. He duly told FIFA and thus exploded the biggest scandal in the organisation’s history.

Subsequently questions were raised about the complexities of Blazer’s own financial arrangements with CONCACAF and these featured in the 2013 report produced by Simmons which excoriated both Warner and Blazer.

Simmons said Blazer received more than $20m in compensation from CONCACAF, including $17m in commission. He added that Blazer worked without a contract from July 18, 1998 and his compensation was discussed only three times in CONCACAF forums during 21 years.

The report also found “no business reason” for the renting of apartments used by Blazer in Manhattan and said the American had tried to buy property in the Bahamas, in 2007, for about $4m using football funds.

Blazer was described by Simmons as “entirely negligent” for failing to file income tax returns for CONCACAF in the United States which led to the body losing its tax-exempt status as a non-profit organisation.

Health concerns

These revelations led to FIFA launching a disciplinary inquiry into Blazer’s activities which were then stalled on health grounds after he voluntarily relinquished all his posts.

Eckert’s latest judgment states that the investigation was revived after Swiss lawyer Cornel Borbely succeeded American Michael Garcia as independent chairman of the investigatory chamber of the Ethics Committee last December.

Evidence obtained by the FBI from Blazer, who was ‘turned’ in return for a guilty plea to various charges including tax evasion, is central to the indictments handed down against 14 senior football officials and marketing executives.

Seven men, including two then vice-presidents of FIFA Jeffrey Webb and Eugenio Figueredo, were arrested in Zurich in May 27 by Swiss authorities acting on an extradition request from the USDoJ. All are being held in prison while contesting extradition applications.

Originally Blazer was one of the most influential powers in the rise of professional soccer in the United States which culminated in the hosting of the World Cup finals in 1994 and launch of Major League Soccer.

He developed the USSF’s national team programme in the 1980s, served one term as executive vice-president of the federation and was then  commissioner of the American Soccer League before gaining access to the levers of international football power through the general secretaryship of CONCACAF which he assumed in 1990.

Political power

Blazer and controversial Trinidadian Warner turned a hitherto sleepy confederation into a political force within world football.

His particular pride was in the high-tech television control suites he constructed within a suite of offices in Trump Tower on New York’s prestigious Fifth Avenue.

Soon Blazer was a fixture within various FIFA committees and joined the exco in 1997 as CONCACAF delegate for North America after the death of long-serving Mexican Guillermo Canedo. Blazer’s resignation led to his exco place being taken over by fellow American Sunil Gulati, president of USSF.

A high point of Blazer’s FIFA tenure was as chairman of the crucial marketing and TV committee which negotiated the deals on which the financial success of both the World Cup and the world federation itself are founded. He always maintained that the controversial dual-bid system for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups had proved proved commercially justified.

The beginning of the end, however, was Warner’s decision to turn his back on long-time FIFA president Sepp Blatter and support Bin Hammam in the 2011 presidential campaign. That led to the Port of Spain conference which has proved almost everyone’s undoing.

Ironically the initial and formal CONCACAF complaint against Blazer was lodged by Enrique Sanz, then the body’s general secretary.

Sanz himself is now under a provisional FIFA suspension. Before succeeding Blazer as CONCACAF general secretary he was vice-president of Traffic Sports USA which has pleaded guilty to various offences in the FIFAgate scandal.

FIFA ethics chamber statement:

ZURICH: The adjudicatory chamber of the Ethics Committee, chaired by Hans-Joachim Eckert, has decided to ban the former FIFA Executive Committee member and CONCACAF General Secretary Chuck Blazer from taking part in any kind of football-related activity at national and international level for life.

The decision was taken on the basis of investigations carried out by the investigatory chamber of the Ethics Committee in response to the final report of the CONCACAF Integrity Committee and the latest facts presented by the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.

Mr Blazer committed many and various acts of misconduct continuously and repeatedly during his time as an official in different high-ranking and influential positions at FIFA and CONCACAF.

In his positions as a football official, he was a key player in schemes involving the offer, acceptance, payment and receipt of undisclosed and illegal payments, bribes and kickbacks as well as other money-making schemes.

He was found guilty of violations of art. 13 (General rules of conduct), art. 15 (Loyalty), art. 16 (Confidentiality), art. 18 (Duty of disclosure, cooperation and reporting), art. 19 (Conflicts of interest), art. 20 (Offering and accepting gifts and other benefits) and art. 21 (Bribery and corruption) of the FIFA Code of Ethics.

In May 2013, the Ethics Committee had decided to provisionally suspend the investigation proceedings in relation to former FIFA Executive Committee member Chuck Blazer until the end of 2013 at the earliest.

The body had taken the decision after receiving written confirmation that Blazer would not be engaging in any football-related activities until at least 31 December 2013, and after taking into consideration circumstances which made it advisable to provisionally suspend the investigations, especially for reasons of Blazer’s ill health.

When Dr Cornel Borbély took over the role of independent chairman of the investigatory chamber of the Ethics Committee in December 2014, he lifted this suspension and started new proceedings against Chuck Blazer, which have led to today’s announcement of the lifelong ban.

The ban is effective from 9 July 2015, the date on which the present decision was notified.

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