The U.S. Justice Department accused more than a dozen people this week of being involved in a massive FIFA corruption scandal that spanned more than two decades. Several high-level officials were arrested in a luxury Zurich hotel Wednesday, including former Confederação Brasileira de Futebol (Brazilian Football Confederation—CBF) President José Maria Marin.
“Our investigation revealed that what should be an expression of international sportsmanship was used as a vehicle in a broader scheme to line executives’ pockets with bribes,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said during a press conference Wednesday in New York. “These individuals and organizations engaged in bribery to decide who would televise games; where the games would be held; and who would run the organization overseeing organized soccer worldwide.”
Marin, who led the jogo bonito’s governing body from March 2012 to April 2015, is facing charges of corruption, racketeering and bribery. According to the indictment, Marin split an $110 million kickback with four others in order to help Uruguayan company Datisa secure global distribution rights for next month’s Copa América and the four future editions of the tournament, including the special centennial cup to be held in the U.S. next year. He also allegedly requested bribe payments from Brazilian sports marketing firm Traffic for distribution rights of the country’s Copa do Brasil.
Others arrested Wednesday were accused of taking bribes to influence the winning bids of the 2010 South Africa World Cup, 2018 Russia World Cup and 2022 Qatar World Cup, with the latter’s selection facing scrutiny for its poor human rights record. Most of these transactions were done using U.S. bank accounts, which triggered the alarm of American authorities in the FBI, IRS and DOJ.Although Brazil’s 2014 World Cup was not directly named in the 47-count indictment, authorities in the South American country have launched their own investigation. According to Justice Minister José Eduardo Cardozo, the actions of CBF and FIFA in Brazil are being looked into.
“If there is evidence, and it is very likely that there is, that federal crimes were committed under Brazilian law, the Federal Police will open its own investigation and act rigorously when dealing with this,” Cardozo said during a press conference in Brasília Thursday.
Rio de Janeiro senator and football legend Romário petitioned his colleagues in the legislative branch Thursday to organize a parliamentary inquiry commission to investigate the CBF. He also asked for the arrest of the organization’s current leader, Marco Polo Del Nero, and former president Ricardo Teixeira. The latter led the organization for more than two decades before resigning due to health problems in 2012. At the time, Teixeira and former FIFA President João Havelange were under investigation for receiving $9.5 million in kickbacks from the now-defunct sports marketing agency ISL.
“Nobody was interested in organizing the best (World) Cup of all times,” Romário said as he spoke in the Legislative Chamber on Thursday. “They were all in the business of stealing to fill their pockets.”
The 2014 World Cup was subject to intense criticism throughout Brazil. In the lead-up to the event, massive protests erupted against government overspending on stadiums and other infrastructure projects referred to as “white elephants.”
In its latest financial report, released last March, FIFA presented earnings of $4.8 billion from ticketing, broadcast rights and sponsorship deals. It also said it spent $2.2 billion organizing the event and donated $100 million to Brazil as a “legacy” payment.
Brazil, in turn, spent $15 billion to organize the costly event in twelve stadiums throughout the country and suffered one of its most humiliating defeats in history when Germany beat the canary team 7-1 in the semifinals.
Brazil’s economy has also plummeted in the year since the tournament, with a shrinking GDP and rising levels of unemployment and inflation.
Marin, who was also in charge of the 2014 Brazil World Cup Local Organizing Committee, is being held in a Swiss jail, where he awaits extradition to the United States. He has been stripped of all authority within FIFA and removed from his current position as CBF’s vice president. The organization even took down his name from its new headquarters, which had been inaugurated under his mandate last year.
U.S. officials said the investigation had only just begun and suggested that other officials may join the fourteen who have already been identified.
Britain’s Serious Fraud Office said it’s also looking into its own investigation into the 111 year old FIFA. During a speech in Berlin, Prime Minister David Cameron said FIFA President Sepp Blatter should resign immediately.
“The sooner that happens, the better—the faster that organization can start to rebuild its credibility, which is going to be so important because so many people around the world want to see this game properly managed, properly looked after, so we can all enjoy the World Cups of the future.”
Others believe that Blatter, who was re-elected to his fifth term as FIFA’s president Friday, will escape another scandal unscathed.
“I am with you, and I would like to stay with you,” he said to applause, shortly before his new term was confirmed. “Let’s go FIFA, let’s go FIFA.”