The Department of Justice announced that high-ranking officials of the governing body for soccer worldwide – referred to as “football” outside of the United States – the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (“FIFA”), and others have been charged with racketeering, wire fraud, money laundering, and bribery. According to the Justice Department, the soccer officials allegedly conspired to solicit and receive in excess of $150 million in bribes and kickbacks from sports marketing executives and others in return for their official support. The alleged kickbacks relate to the commercialization of the media and marketing rights for various soccer events including, FIFA World Cup qualifying matches, the CONCACAF Gold Cup, and the CONCACAF Champions League, as well as the sponsorship of the Brazilian national soccer federation by a major U.S. sportswear company.
FIFA is comprised of more than 200 member associations globally, each representing a particular nation or territory, including the United States and four U.S. territories overseas. Six continental confederations assist FIFA in governing soccer in different regions of the world. The U.S. Soccer Federation is a member of a group of 41 associations known as CONCACAF which stands for the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football and is headquartered in Miami, Florida. Other CONCACAF member nations include Canada, Mexico, Jamaica, Cuba and the Bahamas.
The Justice Department alleges that 14 defendants, including two current FIFA vice-presidents and the current and former presidents of CONCACAF, have participated in a 24-year scheme of corruption and bribery. Swiss authorities arrested seven of the defendants in Zurich at the request of the United States, Jeffrey Webb, Eduardo Li, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Eugenio Figueredo, Rafael Esquivel, and Jose Maria Marin. In addition, the Department of Justice announced that four individuals and two companies have already pleaded guilty they include Charles Blazer, the former general secretary of CONCACAF, and Jose Hawilla, the owner and founder of Traffic Group, a multinational sports marketing group based in Brazil.
The statement by the Justice Department indicates that the indicted and convicted defendants face maximum sentences of 20 years for the charges of RICO conspiracy, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and obstruction of justice. In addition, the government also claims that Eugenio Figueredo could have his U.S. citizenship revoked if convicted of naturalization fraud.
The Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Kelly Currie, stated that the 47-count indictment is not the “final chapter” in the government’s investigation – insinuating that additional indictments may be coming.