For almost two decades top officials at soccer’s governing body took bribes and kickbacks for broadcasting rights and the selection of World Cup venues, former FIFA official Chuck Blazer said.
At a plea hearing in a sealed courtroom in Brooklyn, New York, in 2013, Blazer said he and others on FIFA’s executive committee “agreed to accept bribes” in conjunction with the selection of South Africa for the 2010 World Cup, the most widely followed tournament in sports. According to the newly unsealed transcript of the hearing, he said the choice of the 1998 tournament also involved bribery.
Blazer pleaded guilty to 10 counts at the hearing, with the most serious carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie set a bond of $10 million.
“I knew that the funds involved were the proceeds of an unlawful bribe, and I and others used wires, e-mails, and telephone to effectuate payment of and conceal the nature of the bribe,” Blazer told Dearie, referring to money he transferred between the U.S. and the Caribbean.
Less than two years after his plea, the U.S. charged more than a dozen soccer officials and media middlemen with widespread corruption at the highest levels of the sport.
More arrests are likely as the probe widens, U.S. officials have said. Switzerland and the U.K. also started their own corruption investigations.
U.S. officials said one of the corruption schemes may involve someone close to FIFA president Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, according to a source familiar with the matter. Blatter said Tuesday he would resign the FIFA presidency, four days after being elected to his fifth term.
According to the indictment unsealed May 27, an unidentified “high-ranking FIFA official” authorized a $10 million bribe to influence the selection of the host for the 2010 World Cup.
Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s secretary general and Blatter’s top lieutenant, is that official, according to the source, who asked not to be named because the information is not public.
The FIFA corruption case has thrown a global spotlight on the U.S. Attorney’s office in Brooklyn, which was led by Loretta Lynch until earlier this year when she became the head of the Justice Department. In a news conference in Brooklyn last week, Lynch said that the U.S. is “determined to end” corrupt practices in soccer and “to bring wrongdoers to justice.”
While the transcript that was made public didn’t appear to state whether Blazer was cooperating with the government, some portions of the document were blacked out. In a story headlined “Soccer Rat!,” the New York Daily News reported in 2014 that Blazer was cooperating with the government. Mary Mulligan, Blazer’s lawyer, and Nellin McIntosh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office, declined to say whether Blazer was cooperating.
Blazer, known to have criss-crossed the world on private jets and who had been photographed with the likes of Vladimir Putin, Hillary Clinton and Nelson Mandela, pleaded guilty to racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies along with tax evasion.
While Blazer isn’t named in the indictment unsealed last week, a person identified as “Co-Conspirator #1” reported improprieties involving a 2011 FIFA election to the organization. The report led to a disciplinary proceeding and the resignation of Jack Warner from his post as a FIFA vice president and president of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football, also known as Concacaf.
Co-Conspirator #1 was described in the indictment as the “general secretary of Concacaf” from April 1990 to December 2011, matching the description of Blazer in his plea documents.
Blazer also admitted to taking part in a scheme to defraud FIFA and Concacaf of the “right to honest services by taking undisclosed bribes.” The amount of bribes isn’t spelled out in the unsealed document.
Mulligan declined to comment on the plea transcript.
Blazer, a U.S. citizen who lived in New York, oversaw Concacaf’s main office in the U.S. and was a member of FIFA’s executive committee. Prosecutors alleged Warner and Co-Conspirator #1 were close associates “whose fortunes rose” together over a period of years.
Daryll and Daryan Warner, sons of Jack Warner, have also pleaded guilty to federal charges and have been cooperating with the government. Jack Warner, of Trinidad and Tobago, was among officials who were charged. Other officials as well as sports marketing executives charged are also from the Americas.
Jose Hawilla, founder of a Brazilian sports marketing firm, also pleaded guilty to crimes related to the probe in December 2014.
FIFA, which collected almost $5 billion from running last year’s World Cup in Brazil, has been battered by scandal for years.
The case is U.S. v. Blazer. 13-cr-602. U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).