[Skip the first minute which is a pitch to renew the Patriot Act]
Our new Attorney General of the United States, Loretta Lynch, made a big announcement today and I am not talking about another agreement with a criminal bank that agrees to pay a pithy multi-million-dollar fine without admitting it did anything wrong.
At a press conference this morning, Lynch announced the unsealing of a new 47-count indictment charging 14 world soccer figures, including officials of FIFA, with racketeering, bribery, money laundering and fraud. Four of those accused, including two sports marketing companies, have already pleaded guilty and are likely to be cooperating. From the Washington Post,
Among the “alleged schemes,” said the Justice Department, were kickbacks to FIFA officials by executives and companies involved in soccer marketing and “bribes and kickbacks in connection” with “the selection of the host country for the 2010 World Cup and the 2011 FIFA presidential election.” FIFA is the French abbreviation for the international Federation of Football Associations, the global governing body of soccer.
Swiss prosecutors, in a related announcement, said they had opened criminal proceedings against unidentified individuals on suspicion of mismanagement and money laundering related to the awarding of rights to host the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
The separate Swiss probe includes “electronic data and documents” seized at FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich, the Swiss prosecutor’s office said. Swiss police said they will question at least 10 FIFA executive committee members who took part in the World Cup votes in December 2010 that named Russia and Qatar as host nations for the next two tournaments.
Those charged, the Justice Department said, “include U.S. and South American sports marketing executives who are alleged to have systematically paid and agreed to pay well over $150 million in bribes and kickbacks to obtain lucrative media and marketing rights to international soccer tournaments.”
“Jeffrey Webb and Jack Warner — the current and former presidents of CONCACAF, the continental confederation under FIFA headquartered in the United States — are among the soccer officials charged with racketeering and bribery offenses,” the Justice Department said.
The indictment was unsealed after Swiss police arrested six members of FIFA’s governing body. The New York Times captured the moment.
The lobby of the Baur au Lac, a 171-year-old five-star hotel here in downtown Zurich, was serene in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Bundles of newspapers were tossed on the front doorstep. A cleaner wearing a black uniform buffed the marble floors. The concierge fielded a call from a guest asking whether a local pharmacy could deliver medicine.
Then, when its Swiss clocks struck 6, more than a dozen law enforcement officers in street clothes entered without a fuss through a revolving door at the front of the hotel. They headed straight to the front desk, where they presented government documents and demanded the room numbers of some of the most high-profile officials in soccer, who were staying at the hotel ahead of the annual meeting of FIFA, the sport’s global governing body.
Suddenly, the venerable Baur au Lac, a way station for musicians, artists and royalty, and, the hotel says, the place where the Nobel Peace Prize was born, was transformed into something akin to a crime scene. The concierge was instructed to call one executive’s room, and one of the most significant takedowns in international sports history was under way.
“Sir,” the concierge said in English, “I’m just calling you to say that we’re going to need you to come to your door and open it for us or we’re going to have to kick it in.”
While the arrests went seamlessly, chaos ensued at the Baur au Lac’s front desk. Just minutes after news of the operation broke, the phone began to ring incessantly. At the same time, the officers began returning to the front desk to ask for access to other parts of the hotel.
“Sir, we don’t have any information — please call later,” the concierge said to a caller before slamming the phone down.
After all the arrests were complete, a hulking man in a suit arrived at the front desk. He asked if anyone knew the whereabouts of one of the FIFA executives.
“His wife doesn’t know what to do or where he is,” the man said.
By 9 a.m., the hotel, which had hosted a wedding the night before, was blanketed by private security guards. Outside, reporters gathered and set up cameras for live television shots. Inside, the wives and girlfriends of the men who had been arrested sat together in an ornate lounge off the main foyer. The women crowded around a computer and watched an Internet stream of Walter de Gregorio, FIFA’s chief spokesman, as he addressed a news conference at the governing body’s headquarters just a few miles down the road. As de Gregorio spoke about how, in his opinion, this was actually “a good day” for FIFA — because ridding the organization of corruption is a priority — the women leaned closer. One of them began to cry.
And now for my contribution. The basis for federal jurisdiction is the defendants allegedly conducted meetings in the United States, used US banks to wire money around, used the US postal service to communicate with each other as well as email and used phones to discuss their dirty business.
They obviously did not see this coming.
Conspicuously left out of the indictment is Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA. His freedom may be short-lived, however, as he has been the subject of much speculation that he ran the pay-to-play scheme. With defendants expected to fall like dominoes for cooperation agreements to testify against others, both known and unknown to the grand jury, he may find that he has something to cry about.
Oh, and one more thing. His recent announcement that he would not revisit the decisions to award the World Cup to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022. may end up being, how can I say this diplomatically, ah yes, revisited
Oh, and another question: Are the NFL owners, NBA owners and NCAA reaching for the Rolaids and calling their lawyers?
Will the NSA and or FBI be listening?
Seven officials arrested today:
1. Rafael Esquivel
2. Nicolas Leoz
3. Jeffrey Webb
4. Jack Warner
5. Eduardo Li
6. Eugenio Figueredo
7. Jose Maria Marin
FYI: John Oliver roasted Sepp Blatter on his HBO comedy show Last Week Tonight. Here’s most of it: