If you’re trying to wrap your head around the unfolding FIFA scandal, good luck.
It’ll become a little clearer why America’s new top law enforcement official returns to Brooklyn later Wednesday morning.
That is when U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch will detail for the world media (yes, the world) a corruption scandal involving the World Cup governing body that has been in the works for more than two decades. Lynch was running the case in Brooklyn before she took over the Justice Department.
This is what we know -- and we’ll try and explain why it all matters. But, we must warn, it may make the favorite sport for billions of fans a lot less appealing. Today, at least.
RELATED: The tick-tock on Wednesday's arrests.
The feds acknowledge the growing popularity of soccer in America, note U.S. corporate ties -- including a major Miami marketer -- and say the sport deserves honesty.
But as funnyman John Oliver said a year ago, when you think of FIFA, the sausage principle comes into play: “If you love something, never find out how it was made.”
WHAT WE KNOW (the official stuff)
From the Justice Dept. statement :
A 47-count indictment was unsealed early this morning in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, charging 14 defendants with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies, among other offenses, in connection with the defendants’ participation in a 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer. The guilty pleas of four individual defendants and two corporate defendants were also unsealed today.
The defendants charged in the indictment include high-ranking officials of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the organization responsible for the regulation and promotion of soccer worldwide, as well as leading officials of other soccer governing bodies that operate under the FIFA umbrella. 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 defendants also 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.L
Lynch on the scandal
“The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States,” said Attorney General Lynch. “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 it has profoundly harmed a multitude of victims, from the youth leagues and developing countries that should benefit from the revenue generated by the commercial rights these organizations hold, to the fans at home and throughout the world whose support for the game makes those rights valuable. Today’s action makes clear that this Department of Justice intends to end any such corrupt practices, to root out misconduct, and to bring wrongdoers to justice – and we look forward to continuing to work with other countries in this effort.”
Reasons to care
FIFA determines what countries get to hold the World Cup and the awarding of upcoming tourneys raise eyebrows.
“When FIFA awarded the 2018 games to Russia and followed that with the even more head-scratching choice of Qatar in 2022, critics and other governments cried foul. They smelled shenanigans. They wanted a transparent account of the bidding process to see if Qatar and Russia cut any corners. FIFA brought in Michael Garcia, a one-time U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. He was tasked to look into the behavior of the two nations. The man spent 19 months scrutinizing the bids to host the two tournaments. By the time he was done, his findings stretched to 350 pages. So what did FIFA do? It suppressed the report, released a puny 42-page summary — and cleared itself of any wrongdoing in November."
Garcia was not happy. Especially when FIFA issued its own report that Garcia called "incomplete and erroneous."
Several entities in the indictment, likely those that paid out bribes, have pleaded guilty already. That means they’re now cooperating with the feds.
“Today’s announcement should send a message that enough is enough,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Kelly T. Currie. “After decades of what the indictment alleges to be brazen corruption, organized international soccer needs a new start – a new chance for its governing institutions to provide honest oversight and support of a sport that is beloved across the world, increasingly so here in the United States. Let me be clear: this indictment is not the final chapter in our investigation.”
To quote another prosecutor: “Stay tuned.”