US indicts 16 more in probe of world soccer corruption
WASHINGTON — As members of FIFA's executive committee prepared to vote on reforming soccer's scandal-plagued governing body, Swiss government agents swept into a luxury hotel before dawn for a second wave of arrests on corruption charges in the wake of another sweeping indictment by U.S. prosecutors.
Five current and former members of FIFA's ruling executive committee were among 16 additional men charged with bribes and kickbacks in a 92-count indictment unsealed Thursday that took down an entire generation of soccer leaders in South America, a bedrock of FIFA and World Cup history.
"The betrayal of trust set forth here is truly outrageous," U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said. "The scale of corruption alleged herein is unconscionable."
Led away by Swiss federal police at Zurich's Baur au Lac hotel were Juan Angel Napout of Paraguay, president of the South American confederation (CONMEBOL), and Alfredo Hawit of Honduras, head of the North and Central American and Caribbean governing body (CONCACAF).
The arrests — at the same hotel where initial raid occurred in May — came just before FIFA's executive committee met to approve reform and transparency measures long resisted by soccer's top leaders but ones that gained traction in the aftermath of the scandal.
Rafael Callejas, Honduras' president from 1990-94, was indicted, as was Hector Trujillo, a judge on Guatemala's Constitutional Court.
Also among those charged was Ricardo Teixeira, the president of Brazilian soccer from 1994-2012. Teixeira is a former son-in-law of Joao Havelange, who was FIFA's president from 1974-98. In addition, guilty pleas were unsealed for former CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb and former executive committee member Luis Bedoya.
The 236-page indictment was handed up by a grand jury in New York on Nov. 25.
Eleven current and former members of FIFA's executive committee have been charged in the investigation, which alleges hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal payments. The last three presidents of CONCACAF and CONMEBOL have been indicted.
"The message from this announcement should be clear to every culpable individual who remains in the shadows, hoping to evade this ongoing investigation: You will not wait us out and you will not escape our focus," Lynch said.
Honduras said later Thursday that the United States had requested Callejas' extradition and the Central American nation would cooperate with Washington.
"Nobody is above the law," President Juan Orlando Hernandez's government said in a statement.
At a news conference in the capital, Tegucigalpa, Callejas said his lawyers were studying the accusations and considering what steps to take.
"I will fight unwaveringly to clear up my legal situation in the United States," the former leader said.
Fourteen men were charged in May, when four additional guilty pleas were unsealed, with prosecutors alleging bribes involving the media and marketing rights for the Copa America, the CONCACAF Gold Cup, World Cup qualifiers and other competitions. Eight more guilty pleas were unsealed Thursday, including three by men indicted in May: Webb, marketing executive Alejandro Burzaco and Jose Margulies, described by prosecutors as an intermediary.
Webb, a Cayman Islands citizen who has been released on bail and is largely restricted to his home in Stone Mountain, Georgia, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, three counts of wire fraud conspiracy and three counts of money laundering conspiracy. He agreed to forfeit more than $6.7 million.
One woman pleaded guilty. Zorana Danis, co-founder and owner of New Jersey-based International Soccer Marketing Inc., admitted to wire fraud conspiracy and filing false tax returns, and agreed to forfeit $2 million.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter, elected May 29 to a fifth term running through 2019, said June 2 he would leave office when a successor is chosen. Blatter was provisionally suspended by FIFA on Oct. 8 for 90 days as part of a separate investigation into a $2 million payment in 2011 to European soccer head Michel Platini, who hoped to succeed him when FIFA's 209 member nations vote Feb. 26. Blatter also is under Swiss criminal proceedings.
Blatter and Platini face lifetime bans from soccer at ethics hearings expected this month. Lynch would not respond directly to Blatter's allegation that the inquiry resulted from U.S. anger at losing to Qatar when the executive committee chose the 2022 World Cup host.
"I think he's probably spending a lot of time reading through" the indictment, she said during a news conference.
The indictments list a who's who of soccer executives.
"We still have a number of avenues under investigation," Lynch said.
Among those charged were Marco Polo del Nero, a Brazilian who served on the executive committee from 2012 until last week; Rafael Salguero, a Guatemalan who left the executive committee in May; former South American confederation secretary general Eduardo Deluca; former Peru soccer federation president Manuel Burga; and current Bolivian soccer president Carlos Chaves, already jailed in his own country for embezzlement.
Napout and Hawit opposed extradition to the United States at Zurich police hearings, Switzerland's justice ministry said in a statement.
"According to the U.S. arrest requests, they are suspected of accepting bribes of millions of dollars," the ministry said. "Some of the offenses were agreed and prepared in the USA. Payments were also processed via U.S. banks."
The bribes are linked to marketing rights for the Copa America — including the 2016 edition hosted in the U.S. — and World Cup qualifying matches. Hawit also was charged with attempting to obstruct the grand jury investigation by attempting in July to corruptly influence testimony before the grand jury.
The government alleged that after he was indicted in May, marketing executive Aaron Davidson alerted co-conspirators to the possibility their conversations would be recorded and Hawit directed a co-conspirator to create sham contracts to conceal bribe payments. Prosecutors said there was an argument over the failure of Fabio Tordin, a marketing executive who has pleaded guilty, to pay a $5,000 bribe to a Salvadoran soccer official as part of El Salvador's appearance at an exhibition game in Washington, D.C., this spring.
Once again, FIFA was shaken ahead of a key meeting of its international leaders, who were set to approve expanding the World Cup field from 32 to 40 starting in 2026.
The meeting did support some reforms in a process that responds to the dual American and Swiss federal investigations.
"Events underscore the necessity to establish a complete program of reforms for FIFA today," said interim FIFA President Issa Hayatou, who stepped in when Blatter was suspended.
Modernizing changes include taking many decision-making powers from the executive panel, to be renamed the FIFA Council with more men and women members. Future presidents and council members will be limited to 12 years in office and face stricter integrity checks. FIFA's 209 members are to vote on the changes on the same day they elect a new president.
Fernando Sarney, a FIFA executive committee member from Brazil, said the early morning arrests tainted the meeting.
"It was like someone had died, that was the atmosphere inside," Sarney said. "Everybody was surprised, the feeling was like it's happening again, that it's something we think is personal."
The last six months have been the most turbulent period of Blatter's 17-year reign as FIFA president and have damaged the governing body's billion-dollar annual business.
Asked about reports of a $100 million loss in 2015, acting secretary general Markus Kattner declined to say how much of FIFA's $1.5 billion reserves have been spent on legal bills and making up a shortfall from a failure to sign new World Cup sponsors.
"It is clear it's not an easy year," Kattner said at a news conference. "We had unforeseen additional costs, and also on the revenue side some challenges to cope with."
Blatter was re-elected FIFA president on May 29, two days after a raid in Zurich by Swiss police resulted in seven officials arrested and criminal proceedings opening regarding "systematic and deep-rooted" corruption in soccer.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.