US Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Monday said that the US’ crackdown on corruption in global soccer is expanding, with new charges expected in the coming months.
Lynch made the comments in Switzerland, not far from world soccer headquarters, at the start of a week in which the FIFA investigation is to take center stage in Europe. Law enforcement officials from around the world are congregating for conferences in Zurich and Amsterdam to hear how the case came together and how it might unfold.
“We anticipate pursuing additional charges against individuals and entities,” Lynch said of the US’ inquiry, a coordinated effort among the US Department of Justice, the US FBI and the US Internal Revenue Service.
Lynch spoke in a joint appearance with Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber, who is leading a parallel investigation into corruption inside FIFA. Their news conference took place at the Renaissance Zurich Tower Hotel, 3.2km from the luxury hotel where seven top soccer officials were handcuffed at dawn in May in a wave of arrests that have roiled world soccer’s governing body.
Closing with a warning “to anyone who seeks to live in the past and to return soccer to the days of corruption and bribery, cronyism and patronage — you are on the wrong side of progress,” Lynch said.
Swiss investigators, eager to show they are just as vigilantly policing the sport that is headquartered in their country, announced developments in their own investigation.
Lauber said the Swiss authorities seized real estate in the Alps and identified 121 bank accounts in connection with the case. He called the Swiss financial intelligence unit’s expertise particularly helpful to the investigation, as the IRS’ has been to the US.
“However, this positive input comes with a high price,” Lauber said, calling the process of reviewing individual bank transactions time-consuming and adding that it was too soon to estimate the value of frozen assets.
“This investigation will take much more than the legendary 90 minutes,” he said.
In their investigation, Swiss prosecutors are focused on allegations of bribery related to the bidding for the next two World Cups, which were awarded to Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022. The US’ case centers on bribery and kickback schemes related to the sale of media and marketing rights, exceeding US$150 million over 24 years.
Since the arrests in May, little information has been released about the investigations, which have spurred several other countries whose citizens have been charged to open their own inquiries, including Argentina, Brazil, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago.
In May, Kelly Currie, acting US Attorney for New York’s Eastern District, which brought the case, called the 47-count indictment unsealed that month “the beginning of our work, not the end.”
Citing their continuing inquiries, the FBI and the IRS declined to comment on Monday.
Lynch was in Zurich to participate in a conference held by the International Association of Prosecutors, whose main theme this year is international cooperation.
Lauber, who led the news conference, said he had invited Lynch to Zurich, giving his country’s investigation a shared spotlight with that of the US, which opened its case in 2011, before Swiss prosecutors did.
Discussion of the FIFA case this week is to extend beyond Monday and beyond Switzerland. Tomorrow in Amsterdam, IRS Criminal Investigation Chief Richard Weber is to deliver the keynote speech at a conference on international tax. Hundreds of law enforcement officials from dozens of countries are expected to attend the conference, whose theme of international tax crime is pegged to the FIFA investigation.
In his speech, Weber is expected to discuss international corruption, cooperation and the role of banks in investigations like the FIFA case. Weber’s unit of the IRS, working in concert with FBI agents in New York, is credited with having helped break open the case with its investigation of Chuck Blazer, a former US soccer official who failed to file personal income tax returns.
In 2013, Blazer secretly pleaded guilty to tax and corruption charges, providing key cooperation that helped the US charge 17 other men. Three of them have pleaded guilty and three others have been arraigned in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, having pleaded not guilty as cases against them proceed. The balance remain abroad and some are actively contesting extradition.
Meanwhile, FIFA’s top leadership in Zurich has remained intact. Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA, and his deputy, Jerome Valcke, have said they plan to stay in their positions until February, when the organization’s 209 member countries from around the world are due to gather in Switzerland — as they last did in May, when the arrests took place — to elect a new leader.
Before then, the organization’s executive committee, a smaller group of 24, is to meet later this month, with officials from various countries, including the US, expected to attend.
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