For years, people complained about FIFA’s corrupt nature. But only in the past few months has a fuller picture of widespread bribery and corruption under Sepp Blatter’s reign emerged. ESPN released a brilliant E:60 on Blatter and his dictatorial ways, but the biggest news was that Blatter is afraid to enter the United States because he might face American prosecution.
Those fears were validated yesterday, when ten FIFA officials were arrested in Zurich and will be extradited to the USA. Charges include the federal crimes of wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering, and one assumes the Justice Department needed tons of ammunition to bring an indictment against nine FIFA executives and five corporate executives.
Sepp Blatter and corruption are a pair that go way back. When Blatter was first elected FIFA president in 1998, there were loud claims that he defeated the favored Lennart Johansson due to bribery. In David Yallop’s widely published How They Stole the Game, Blatter was accused of winning with the help of $50,000 bribes from the Middle East to the heads of various African football federations. Efforts to investigate the election were quelled by Blatter, who assured nobody of his innocence by saying: “I cannot open an inquiry into myself. The elections are now finished.”
In April 2002, Blatter suspended a FIFA investigation into finances. This infuriated Blatter’s critics, including his secretary-general Michael Van-Ruffinen. Three weeks later, Van-Ruffinen filed a FIFA lawsuit against Blatter on multiple charges, including misleading accountancy practices and evidence of conflict of interest. Some of Blatter’s actions were reportedly in violation of Swiss law, meaning there could be a criminal investigation into those activities.
Despite the charges, Blatter was deemed innocent because there was insufficient evidence to deem him guilty. Van-Ruffinen and several other vocal opponents of Blatter were fired shortly after, leaving the Blatter regime more secure than ever. He occasionally made sexist and homophobic comments during the 2000s, but Blatter would not be accused of illegal activity again until 2010.
An unusual decision was made to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups on the same day. When Russia and Qatar were surprisingly nominated as the World Cup hosts in December 2010, many suspected that vote-buying played a role in the result. The British press went to work; stunned that its 2018 bid received only two votes of nearly 200 total after being considered a favorite to host in 2018 weeks before.
Phaedra Al-Majid worked for the Qatar 2022 bid and witnessed three African votes be purchased for $1.5 million (USD) each. She blew the whistle in 2011, and told Jeremy Schaap of E:60 she has since received death threats and intimidation from Sepp Blatter. Now she uses FBI protection.
In the lead-up to the vote, two Sunday Times reporters went undercover as US lobbyists to catch FIFA Executive Committee members Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii requesting money for new facilities in exchange for votes.
Later the Sunday Times gained access to documents that clearly showed that Qatari football president Mohammed Bin Hammam made payments exceeding $5 million dollars to football officials in exchange for favorable votes.
When compiling evidence against FIFA officials, an anonymous law enforcement seemed amazed that “it (corruption) just seemed to permeate every element of the federation and was just their way of doing business. It seems like this corruption was institutionalized.” Evidence of that institutionalized corruption can be found here, where a staggering number of the 24-man executive board were accused of taking or attempting to take bribes.
All these accusations over the years prove that Blatter and his allies laugh in the face of FIFA’s Code of Ethics, its section on Substantive Law, and its subsection on Undue Advantage. The leader of any other professional sports organization would be held accountable by his peers for allowing criminal activities to occur under his watch. But FIFA is no ordinary organization.
An exchange between ESPN’s Schaap and Roland Buechel, a former FIFA employee & current Swiss Parliament Member, reveals that FIFA doesn’t have to disclose how much it pays its executives and general employees, the length of its meetings, or answer to any overarching authority. Why? Because it is legally a non-profit organization.
The U.S. Justice Department has sufficient authority to bring a case against Sepp Blatter. In the American-Swiss legal treaty, Swiss authorities have the power to refuse extradition for tax crimes, but on matters of general criminal law, the Swiss have agreed to turn people over for prosecution in American courts.
The bigger question is whether Blatter himself did anything to warrant a trial and arrest. Everyone knows he was complicit in scandalous behavior. But it is as Buechel says: “Blatter is a person that knows what it takes to remain in power, and I don’t think he has been stupid enough to have taken bribes himself.”
Blatter will win re-election on Friday despite the latest arrests. And unless further evidence reveals Sepp’s active involvement in awarding the World Cup to Qatar, he will not join his FIFA colleagues in an American court where he belongs.