For soccerheads, FIFA needs to come clean on this one

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Game on Teerasil Dangda of Thailand (R) and NT Hoang of Vietnam (L) during their 2018 World Cup qualifier match
Game on Teerasil Dangda of Thailand (R) and NT Hoang of Vietnam (L) during their 2018 World Cup qualifier match

Barely two days before Blatter won a ‘mandate’ to continue his reign for the fifth successive term, a dozen plainclothed Swiss law enforcement personnel landed up at the posh Baur Au Lac, a luxury hotel, which has astonishing views of Lake Zurich and the Alps. They got the room numbers from the concierge and the proceeded to carry out the arrests, following investigations, which were backed by the FBI. The case involved an intricate web of ‘pay-outs’ and ‘bribes’ involving media rights, marketing rights and decisions on venues of the World Cup.

The indictment, itself included 14 names and some arrests were also carried out in far-off places like Trinidad, where the most prominent figure in the scandal Jack Warner, a former vice-president of FIFA and president of CONCACAF, was arrested from.

Apart from the 14 who were arrested in various places in last week’s swoop, four others have already entered a ‘Guilty Plea’ and those four included two sons of Warner. It also included the flamboyant Chuck Blazer, a former secretary-general of CONCACAF.

Going back to the beginning of beginning, as it were, what happened in Zurich did not even begin as an investigation into corruption in soccer.

It was as Matt Apuzzo’s article in the New York Times on May 29, headlined, “A US Tax investigation that snowballed to stun the Soccer World”.

According to Apuzzo, FBI and IRS officials on both coasts of US were working on a case that finally led to the same set of people and they also happened to be involved in soccer. One of them was Blazer, who lived lavishly, had two apartments in the Trump Tower, properties in Miami and Bahamas, however, had not been filing income tax returns. That started a case in August 2011.

Months turned into years, actually only a couple, but the sleuths were patient in their investigations. They zeroed in on Blazer and by 2012, when the London Olympics came around, Blazer had agreed to become an informant for the FBI and ‘snitch’ on FIFA officials by recording them at crucial meetings, that he himself helped set up.

As New York Daily News reported in a lengthy exposé on 1 November 2014, “The most crucial Olympic ring of the 2012 London Games was a simple keychain, wired for sound and presented to top international soccer executive Chuck Blazer — a cooperating witness for federal law enforcement agents.

“The corrupt and corpulent Blazer, once the sport’s No. 1 powerbroker in the United States, is alleged to have collected untold millions during his 20-year reign, running up a staggering $29 million in credit card charges to help fuel his extravagant lifestyle, which included a pricey Trump Tower apartment for his cats.

“But a wide-ranging Daily News investigation revealed the Feds flipped the 450-pound Blazer, who at the behest of the FBI and IRS discreetly placed his keychain — a tiny microphone embedded in its specially altered fob — on a nearby table as a parade of international figures visited Blazer at various venues, including the London Olympics…”

IT WAS the beginning of the end for many FIFA officials. Blazer had been around for many years. He oversaw the 1994 World Cup in the United States and was a member of the powerful Executive Committee (called ‘Ex-Co’ in sports circles) of the FIFA from 1996 to 2013, when he resigned. But what finally did him in was tax evasion – at least between 1992 and 1998, as the Daily News reported.

In 2011, when there was an attempt to unseat Blatter, sealed envelopes with US $40,000 were alleged to have been offered to members of the CONCACAF at a meeting of the Caribbean Football Union, so as to get them to vote en masse (CONCACAF as a block) for Blatter’s rival. But one of them, Frederick Lunn of Bahamas, turned it down.

Subsequently, Mohammad Bin Hammam, who had wanted to oppose Blatter at the 2011 FIFA presidential elections and Warner were suspended and then banned. Hammam withdrew before the elections and Blatter won unopposed.

Blazer, to protect himself, had reported possible violations by Warner, who was the President of CONCACAF, to the FIFA ethics committee. Till then Blazer and Warner were thick friends. Some say it was the aggrieved Warner, who probably led the Feds to Blazer’s doors.

The bearded Blazer, now close to 70, is obese from the excesses of a good life and is now suffering from colon cancer and Warner, soon after arrest last week in Trinidad, complained of illness and went into a hospital. But the very next day, he was seen dancing at a political rally. Blazer has entered a Guilty Plea with FBI sometime back. And now with the noose tightening around him, could Blatter be the next to be indicted and even arrested. That could even happen in Switzerland, where he lives, as he is unlikely to venture to US in the near future.

Even now, at the time of writing, Blatter has not had any charges leveled against him. But that looks likely to change with each passing moment as the US Fed are getting closer to his door by the minute.

The much-talked about $10 million payment, which is haunting FIFA and Blatter is said to be a ‘pay-off’ for aiding South Africa secure the right to host the 2010 World Cup. However, the Sunday Independent, a South African newspaper, quoted Danny Jordaan, the chief executive of South Africa’s World 2010 Cup bid and currently the president of its soccer federation, as saying, that the payment (of $10 million) could not have been a bribe, contending how could a bribe have been paid four years after South Africa had won the bid (in 2004).

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