So, what the hell is going on?
The world awoke Wednesday morning to the news that a number of high-ranking FIFA officials had been arrested by Swiss authorities in a Zürich hotel, and were facing extradition to the USA on charges of racketeering, money laundering and wire fraud.
And there's more. A few hours later, the Swiss announced that they had also been busy with their own investigation, and that they had seized documentation from FIFA headquarters in relation to alleged "criminal mismanagement" and "money laundering." Unfortunately for fans of early morning police raids, both operations appears to have taken place with general cooperation, and without anybody having to smash through any windows.
So. The first one. What's alleged to have happened?
This morning the U.S. Dept. of Justice released a (fairly extraordinary) statement outlining the allegations. Fourteen individuals are accused of various offences in relation to "a 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer." Four other individual defendants and two corporate defendants have pleaded guilty.
Specifically, the charges relate to the practices of CONCACAF -- the federation that oversees football in North and Central America -- and its dealings with a number of U.S. and South American sports marketing companies. Over $150 million in "bribes and kickbacks" is alleged to have been solicited and paid to secure media and marketing rights to international tournaments and fixtures, including World Cup qualifiers, the Copa America, the CONCACAF Gold Cup and Champions League, and the Copa Libertadores.
Here's Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch:
The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States. It spans at least two generations of soccer officials who, as alleged, have abused their positions of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.
And here's FBI Director James B. Comey:
The defendants fostered a culture of corruption and greed that created an uneven playing field for the biggest sport in the world. Undisclosed and illegal payments, kickbacks and bribes became a way of doing business at FIFA.
Also of note: this investigation was massive -- multiple agencies working with their international counterparts -- and yet doesn't appear to have stalled, and only appears to have leaked once.
So, who's on the hook?
Nine of the defendants named are current or former FIFA officials. They include Jeffrey Webb, president of CONCACAF, FIFA vice president and executive committee member; Jack Warner, who resigned from FIFA's executive committee in 2011 amid a storm of corruption allegations; and Jose Maria Marin, former president of the Brazilian football association. On the corporate side, they're targeting high ranking executives from marketing companies based in Argentina and the US.
(Warner has already affirmed his innocence, claiming that he has nothing to do with football any more and has devoted himself to improving the lives of ordinary Trinidadians.)
Meanwhile, those that have pleaded guilty include Jack Warner's two sons Daryan and Daryll. Given that they both took a plea two years ago that has remained sealed until today, it looks an awful lot like they've ratted out their own father. Then there's Chuck Blazer, former general secretary of CONCACAF, whose involvement with the FBI was revealed last year by the New York Daily News. He's the guy with the huge beard whose cats had their own apartment, who didn't pay any taxes for a decade and whose key ring was wired for sound by the FBI after he agreed to become a cooperating witness. He also made his plea back in 2013.
The other guilty plea comes from a man named Jose Hawilla, a former hot dog salesman who went on to establish The Traffic Group, a Brazilian sports marketing conglomerate. We point him out here not just because he and his companies have pleaded guilty, but to note that he has agreed to forfeit "over $151 million." That's ... that's a lot of money.
Okay, so that's the Americans. What about the Swiss?
Where the FBI's investigation relates to a series of alleged crimes over a considerable span of time, the Swiss investigation is concerned with the process that awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, respectively. Allegations of collusion, vote-swapping and bribery have been floating around ever since, and it appears that the Swiss authorities are taking at least some of those allegations seriously.
Do we know who's in trouble here?
The Guardian have the 10 names: They include Issa Hayatou, president of the Confederation of African Football; Vitaly Mutko, head of the 2018 World Cup; and Michel D'Hooghe, who was only recently cleared of accepting a painting from the Russia 2018 bid and attempting to secure a job in Qatar for a friend. Jack Warner was arrested in Trinidad later and faces extradition to the United States.
Sepp Blatter isn't directly involved yet, but he's reportedly been asked to not leave Switzerland.
Another update: A FIFA statement revealed the names of 11 individuals provisionally banned "from carrying out any football-related activities on a national and international level." They are: Jeffrey Webb, Eduardo Li, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Jack Warner, Eugenio Figueredo, Rafael Esquivel, José Maria Marin, Nicolás Leoz, Chuck Blazer and Daryll Warner.
So what has FIFA had to say for itself?
We are very happy about what is happening right now. It is unfortunately once again FIFA that is suffering.
So sayeth Walter de Gregorio, FIFA's Director of Communications, who this morning held a press conference at FIFA headquarters in Zürich. Making sure that everybody knew he was very tired, he was keen to stress that FIFA were cooperating fully with both the Swiss and the American authorities, that FIFA views itself as the damaged party*, and that these latest developments have their basis, at least in part, in FIFA's own investigations and the ethics report authored by Michael Garcia.
*In this he's supported by the Attorney General: their statements includes the note that: "On 18 November 2014, FIFA had filed criminal charges against persons unknown with the OAG. Therefore, the Swiss proceeding is aimed at persons unknown, with FIFA as the injured party."
Following De Gregorio's masterclass in not saying very much, FIFA issued a statement saying equally little. But it does conclude rather wonderfully:
We are pleased to see that the investigation is being energetically pursued for the good of football and believe that it will help to reinforce measures that FIFA has already taken.
What does U.S. Soccer have to say?
Here's their statement. It's dull.
The United States Soccer Federation firmly believes there is no higher priority, and nothing more important, than protecting the integrity of our game. We are committed to the highest ethical standards and business practices, and we will continue to encourage CONCACAF and FIFA to promote the same values. Out of respect for the ongoing investigation, we will not speculate or comment further on this matter at this time.
And what about Sepp Blatter?
De Gregorio stressed that Blatter was not involved and was "relaxed" about the events. Asked by journalists if this was the lowest moment in FIFA's history, he claimed that this was "good" for FIFA: not in terms of image, but in terms of cleaning things up. He also clarified that while Blatter was "relaxed," he certainly wasn't "dancing around his office." For which we can all be thankful.
Will the votes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups be re-run?
No. Or at least, there are no plans to do so. At the press conference, De Gregorio twice stated that the Russia and Qatar World Cups will be played in Russia and Qatar. The second time, however, he was careful to add that he could not predict how things would look tomorrow. In essence, FIFA has left itself wiggle room if the competitions become truly untenable. Well, more untenable than they already are.
Last question. With all this going on, how on earth did FIFA make such a dull film about itself?
SB Nation presents: Sepp Blatter won't come to America, except for maybe a bribe