KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- FIFAGate has come to town this week in a courtroom in Brooklyn, New York, two years and five months after the dawn raid on a Zurich hotel which blew open the rotten state of the leadership of the world football federation.
On May 27, 2015, Swiss police responded to extradition requests from the US Justice Department to seize seven football executives from their five-star, bribery-enhanced complacency in the Baur au Lac hotel on the eve of FIFA Congress.
Later that day Loretta Lynch, the then US Attorney-General, outlined the length, depth and breadth of the investigation into a network of corruption among leaders of the game in the Americas with the complicity of an army of agents and middle-men.
US tax authorities have described the case preparation as “one of the most complex international financial investigations ever.” Apart from the vast sums of cash, ‘fringe benefits’ included front companies, hidden accounts, luxury villas and works of art.
The summary of charges is 236 pages long, lists 92 different offences and estimates the scale of bribery at around $200m.
Some 42 individuals and several companies were indicted. At least 24 (23 men and one woman) have admitted guilt and, after plea-bargain negotiations, await sentence. Others continue to negotiate. At least 15 men continue to evade US DoJ extradition attempts.
Notably, these include Nicolas Leoz (ex-president of South American confederation CONMEBOL), Jack Warner (ex-president of central and north American body CONCACAF) as well as Ricardo Teixeira and Marco Polo del Nero, former and current presidents of the Brazilian FA.
In the past fortnight two men have been sentenced. Guatemalan Miguel Trujillo, a former judge and senior local FA official, was jailed for eight months; Costas Takkas, once senior aide to Jeff Webb, another ex-CONCACAF supremo, was imprisoned for 15 months.
The knock-on effect of the original US action prompted an investigation by the Swiss Attorney-General into the scandal-hit 2018 and 2022 World Cup bid process and, subsequently, the banishment from football of then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter, then-UEFA leader Michel Platini (also a FIFA vice-president) and the FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke.
Blatter and Valcke, who have denied all wrongdoing, are under criminal investigation in Switzerland.
Monday saw the start, with jury selection, of one of the few ‘not-guilty’ trials. The football world will watch, intrigued as to what new evidence may emerge about the murky dealings by three men whose membership of the senior strata of FIFA was the common denominator.
Jose Maria Marin, an 85-year-old former head of the Brazilian CBF who has been under ‘house arrest’ in his sumptuous Trump Tower apartment. The former FIFA exco member faces seven charges for allegedly taking millions of dollars in bribes from sports marketing companies linked to the sale of rights, primarily for the Copa America;
Juan Angel Napout, 59, a Paraguayan successor to Leoz as head of CONMEBOL, and who has been under house arrest in Florida. The ex-FIFA vice-president faces five charges of accepting millions of dollars in bribes in return for selling marketing rights for regional tournaments and World Cup qualifying matches; and
Manuel Burga, 60, head of the Peruvian federation between 2002 and 2014 and former member of the FIFA development committee (long considered a front for fraud for those prepared to capitalise on its opportunities). He has denied receiving bribes from a sports marketing official in exchange for television rights to several editions of the Copa America.
The three men face charges of corruption and fraud punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Current FIFA president Gianni Infantino insists that all these events should now be considered historic and that the world football federation has reformed itself and turned the page.
However it continues to guard, protectively, its declared status as a “victim” in the US judicial process. To what extent Blatter’s regime was a victim, and to what extent more individuals may have been complicit, should emerge in the coming weeks.
One man, definitively, has escaped justice. Chuck Blazer was the American FIFA exco member and general secretary of CONCACAF. Another Trump Tower resident, he turned state’s evidence after being arrested for failing to declare his taxes. He died on July 12, aged 72, but the crooked legacy rolls on.
** The case continues on Wednesday.