KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- The spectre of the FIFAGate bribery scandal has returned to haunt international football after new indictments were laid by the United States judicial authorities in a New York court.
Notably, disgraced former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago was allegedly paid £5m through a host of offshore companies to back Russia’s 2018 World Cup while long jail terms on other charges threaten ex-Fox TV executives Hernan Lopez and Carlos Martinez as well as Gerard Romy, former co-ceo of Spanish media company Imagina.
More than 40 individuals and companies were charged initially after explosive revelations from the then US Attorney-General, Loretta Lynch, in May 2015
Seven senior executives were detained in Zurich on the eve of the world federation’s annual congress on extradition warrants concerning a years-long conspiracy to rip off millions of dollars from World Cup TV contracts and regional sponsorship deals.
Six of those originally charged died during process and 26 are still awaiting sentencing.
Brazilian football bosses Ricardo Teixeira and Marco Polo del Nero are beyond extradition in Rio de Janeiro while Jack Warner, once highly-influential president of the central and north American confederation CONCACAF, is resisting extradition from Trinidad & Tobago.
Warner is accused in the new indictment of having received bribes to vote for Russia and Qatar in the controversial 2018/2022 World Cup award ballots by the FIFA executive committee in 2010.
Catalogue of corruption
The indictment states:
Several executive committee members were offered or received bribes in connection with their [World Cup] votes.
For example, the defendants Ricardo Teixeira, [Paraguayan] Nicolas Leoz and Co-Conspirator#1 [believed to be the late Argentinian Julio Grondona] were offered and received bribe payments in exchange for their votes in favour of Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup.
In addition, the defendant Jack Warner was promised and received bribe payments totalling $5m and [fellow CONCACAF delegate] Rafael Salguero was promised a $1m bribe in exchange for their votes in favour of Russia to host the 2018 World Cup.
In or about and between November 2010 and April 2011, the defendant Jack Warner received approximately $5m, via more than two dozen separate wire transfers, to an account he controlled at Republic Bank in Trinidad & Tobago.
The wire transfers were sent from 10 different shell companies, all of which were registered and maintained bank accounts in offshore jurisdictions, including Cyprus, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands.
Bid and organising heads of both the Russian and Qatar World Cup operations have always denied all accusations of wrongdoing.
Evidence concerning the alleged bribing of Warner, Salguero and the now-deceased former CONCACAF general secretary Chuck Blazer was given in open court in 2017 in a New York trial which ended in jail terms for ex-COMEBOL president Juan Angel Napout and ex-Brazilian CBF supremo Jose Maria Marin.
Napout and Marin are the only two named defendants to have been handed formal jail terms. Other defendants have been sentenced to time served after months in detention or house arrest awaiting a hearing.
Newly-accused now with TV rights bribery are former executives of 21st Century Fox, as well as Spanish firm Imagina and Argentinian agency Full Play. Fox is now owned by Disney. Speculation has been rife that the indictment was delayed until after completion of the merger.
Named in the FIFAGate indictment for the first time are former Fox executives Hernan Lopez and Carlos Martinez. They are charged with paying officials of CONMEBOL, South American football’s governing body, to obtain bidding information concerning broadcast rights to the Copa Libertadores from an unidentified co-conspirator.
Lopez was ceo of Fox International Channels, a 21st Century Fox subsidiary, and Martinez was president of Fox International Channels and an executive of Fox Latin American Channel Inc.
Fox held the rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups when, without a formal bidding process, it was also awarded 2026. Subsequently hosting rights to the 2026 finals were awarded to a joint bid led by the US with Canada and Mexico as junior partners.
Also charged are Gerard Romy, formerly ceo of Spain-based agency Imagina Media Audiovisual, and the Uruguayan agency Full Play. They are accused of racketeering conspiracy.
Lawyers for the latest defendants have denied wrongdoing.
‘Bribes and kickbacks’
William F. Sweeney Jr, an FBI assistant director, said: “The profiteering and bribery in international soccer have been deep-seated and commonly known practices for decades.
“Over a period of many years, the defendants and their co-conspirators corrupted the governance and business of international soccer with bribes and kickbacks, and engaged in criminal fraudulent schemes that caused significant harm to the sport of soccer.
Their schemes included the use of shell companies, sham consulting contracts and other concealment methods to disguise the bribes and kickback payments and make them appear legitimate.”
The latest chapter in the saga will have no effect on the staging of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
As for Russa, Alexei Sorokin, chief executive of its 2018 World Cup operation and now a member of the FIFA Council, told the Interfax news agency: “This is only the opinion of lawyers. We have repeatedly said that our bid was transparent. “At the time we answered all questions, including from the investigation branch of FIFA and from the media, we handed over all needed documents.
“We have nothing to add to this and we will not respond to attempts to cast a shadow on our bid.”
FIFA supports all investigations into alleged acts of criminal wrong-doing regarding either domestic or international football competitions, and will continue to provide full cooperation to law enforcement officials investigating such matters. FIFA is closely following these investigations and all related developments in the legal processes ongoing in the United States and other parts of the world.
It is important to point out that FIFA has itself been accorded victim status in the US criminal proceedings and senior FIFA officials are in regular contact with the US Department of Justice. Following the latest indictment, FIFA will ask the DOJ for further information on these matters.
The FIFA Ethics Committee has already imposed sanctions, including life bans, on football officials mentioned in this process.
So far as FIFA is concerned, should any acts of criminal wrong-doing by football officials be established, the individuals in question should be subject to penal sanctions.
As the respective criminal cases are ongoing we are not in a position to comment further for the time being.