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U.S. Indicts 16 More In Expanding FIFA Corruption Probe

  • Mike Eckel

WASHINGTON -- U.S. law enforcement officials have indicted 16 more people on corruption-related charges connected with the expanding multinational probe of graft, kickbacks, and bribery at FIFA, the world soccer governing body.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch detailed the charges against the men hours after police in Switzerland raided a luxury Zurich hotel and arrested two FIFA officials at the behest of the United States.

The international soccer world was stunned earlier this year when U.S. and Swiss officials arrested a host of FIFA officials and detailed vast networks of bribe-taking and other activity surrounding tournaments going back at least a decade.

In late May, Swiss authorities arrested top soccer officials in Zurich and indictments that were unsealed May 29 targeted 14 people, including several top FIFA executives.

The indictments listed 47 counts, including bribery, fraud, and money laundering, accusing soccer officials of using agency business decisions to trade for personal wealth.

Switzerland’s Justice Ministry identified the two officials arrested earlier on December 3 as FIFA Vice President Juan Angel Napout, from Nicaragua, and Vice President Alfredo Hawit, from Honduras -- both who were among those named by Lynch at a news conference in Washington on December 3.

“Not content to hijack the world’s most popular sport for decades of ill-gotten gains, these defendants, as alleged, sought to institutionalize the corruption, to make sure it lived on, not for the good of the game, but their own personal aggrandizement and gain,” Lynch said.

Of the 16 targeted in the new indictments, five were current or former members of FIFA’s Executive Committee, including Napout, who is the head of the South American Football Confederation, known as CONMEBOL, and Alfredo Hawit, who is chief of the North, Central American, and Caribbean soccer body, CONCACAF.

Other notable officials named in the 92-count indictments include Marco Polo del Nero and Ricardo Teixeira, the current and former presidents of the Brazilian soccer federation, respectively.

Several sports marketing officials in the United States and in South America were also named.

“The scale of alleged corruption is unconscionable,” Lynch said. “And the message of 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.”

The Justice Department also revealed that several other soccer officials who had been charged earlier this year had entered guilty pleas, including Jeffrey Webb, a former FIFA vice president and former CONCACAF president who faced racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud, and money-laundering charges.

Lynch said the investigation was still ongoing, suggesting more indictments would be forthcoming.

“As always, we anticipate other charges,” she said.

Many longtime soccer observers and critics of FIFA were surprised when U.S. officials unsealed the original indictment, given that FIFA is headquartered in Switzerland and given that soccer is dwarfed by other sports like American football, basketball, and baseball in the United States.

But as the original indictment and subsequent news reports revealed, the linchpin in the investigation was a former U.S. soccer executive named Chuck Blazer, who served as a top FIFA official and helped secretly record conversations with other soccer officials in exchange for pleading guilty to years of tax fraud.

FIFA’s long-ruling president, Sepp Blatter, has not faced criminal charges to date, though Swiss judicial authorities said in September they were opening a criminal probe of his activities.

Days after the probe was announced, FIFA suspended Blatter and a top deputy, Michel Platini, a former European soccer star and current head of the European soccer association, UEFA.

Some soccer observers have called for FIFA to rescind its decision awarding the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar.

Blatter has alleged that the U.S. investigation resulted from U.S. anger at losing to Qatar for the right to host the 2022 tournament.

Lynch would not respond to that allegation.