U.S. Justice Department Files Corruption Charges Against FIFA

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The Justice Department unveils criminal charges against 14 people in connection with rampant racketeering and a bribery scheme at FIFA, the world's premiere soccer organization. The FBI secretly secured guilty pleas from four officials and two companies.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

An FBI raid in Miami - in Switzerland, seven arrests at a five-star hotel, suspects led out of the hotel behind a white bed sheet. Those dramatic events unfolded today as the Justice Department revealed a sweeping indictment. It describes an elaborate conspiracy in which those at the top amassed personal fortunes by defrauding their organizations - soccer organizations. As NPR's Carrie Johnson reports, the alleged criminal enterprise is FIFA.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: The 47-count indictment includes racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering charges that span two decades. FIFA is the international regulatory body for soccer, and its officials do good works like building fields for kids in poor countries and organizing the enormously popular World Cup. But U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch says many of those same executives...

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LORETTA LYNCH: ...Used their positions of trust within their respective organizations to solicit bribes from sports marketers in exchange for the commercial rights to their soccer tournaments. They did this over and over, year after year.

JOHNSON: Prosecutors say that bribery and kickbacks became a way of doing business at FIFA. They filed charges not just against soccer officials, but also sports marketers who paid more than $150 million to win marketing rights at international soccer contests. Kelly Currie is acting U.S. attorney in Brooklyn where the charges were unsealed.

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KELLY CURRIE: What they did have in common was greed - greed that drove them to use and exploit their positions for cash.

JOHNSON: And there was a lot of cash. Criminal investigators at the Internal Revenue Service say they uncovered millions of dollars stashed in offshore accounts in Hong Kong, the Cayman Islands and Switzerland. Richard Weber works for the IRS.

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RICHARD WEBER: This really is the World Cup of fraud. And today, we are issuing FIFA a red card.

JOHNSON: Several of the executives taken into custody in Zurich have signaled they will fight any efforts to extradite them to the U.S. for trial. But Attorney General Loretta Lynch argues the Justice Department is on solid ground when it comes to jurisdiction. That's because she says the defendants allegedly planned some of the schemes inside the U.S. And, Lynch says...

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LYNCH: They used the banking and the wire facilities in the U.S. to distribute their bribe payments, and they planned to profit from their scheme in large part through promotional efforts directed at the growing U.S. market for soccer.

JOHNSON: FBI agents have already helped secure guilty pleas from four executives and two companies involved in the scheme. Some of those pleas date back nearly two years, and until recently, they remained a closely-held secret. The investigation took a long time because of the international scope, but FBI Director James Comey says his agents aren't done yet.

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JAMES COMEY: This investigation has been long and painstaking, and it is not over. And the work will continue until all of the corruption is uncovered and a message is sent around the world that this conduct will not be tolerated.

JOHNSON: Prosecutors refused to comment about the legal status of FIFA's current president, Sepp Blatter, only saying he has not been charged, quote, "at this time." But court papers say corrupt payments influenced a decision on the winning site of the World Cup in 2010 and Blatter's re-election the following year. Many of the defendants face racketeering counts, the same charge prosecutors deploy against mobsters and drug kingpins. A conviction on even one of those counts carries a 20-year maximum prison sentence. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.