Fifa Arrests: How A Soccer Dad, Stashed Cash Helped U.S. Build Its Case
The long arm of American law enforcement first caught up with what US attorney general Loretta Lynch calls international football’s “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted” corruption racket while chasing a mobility scooter down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.
Inside the scooter was Chuck Blazer, a suburban soccer dad, who had risen near to the top of the sport’s governing body, Fifa, and by 2011 was living the high life in two apartments above Fifa’s regional office in nearby Trump Tower: one for him and one, reputedly, for his cats.
Behind him were agents from the US Internal Revenue Service and FBI, who called out Blazer’s name and wanted to know why he had not paid tax on his share of $151m of alleged bribes and kickbacks said to have been sloshing through Fifa’s hands for two generations.
“We can take you away in handcuffs now, or you can cooperate,” said one of two agents, according to a vivid account of the incident first published by the New York Daily News last November.
Just how cooperative Blazer proved only became apparent on Wednesday, as plain clothed Swiss police acting on behalf of the FBI burst into the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich at dawn to arrest seven other Fifa officials and reveal charges against seven further defendants.
The officials were led out of the exclusive venue used for Fifa committee meetings behind white sheets held up by hotel staff to protect them from waiting cameras. But a similar raid was already under way at the Miami headquarters of Fifa’s North American branch and no amount of money could now hide the scale of what of IRS chief Richard Weber later claimed before a press conference in New York was “the World Cup of fraud.”
Allegations of corruption and kickbacks have swirled around Fifa for decades, and the story now emerging from US prosecutors suggests they used tried-and-tested techniques designed to tackle organised crime to roll up the alleged conspiracy by leaning on witnesses to cooperate.
The detailed indictment against Blazer unsealed on Wednesday revealed they had assembled specific allegations of his involvement in bribes related to the selection of World Cup host countries going back to the early 1990s.
Facing a 20-year jail sentence just for the most serious charge of racketeering, Blazer agreed to plead guilty to a total of 10 counts – including wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering, income tax and banking offences – in the hope of more lenient treatment.
Though unconfirmed by prosecutors this week, the Daily News report suggests Blazer even agreed to secretly record future meetings with Fifa officials, allegedly carrying a recording device hidden in a key ring to London’s May Fair hotel during the 2012 Olympic Games.
But Blazer was not the only big fish to succumb to threats from prosecutors. The two adult children of Jack Warner, a former Fifa regional president and Trinidad and Tobago politician charged under this week’s indictment, were caught in equally colourful circumstances.
Unsealed charges against Daryan and Daryll Warner, who have both pleaded guilty to a variety of fraud and money laundering charges, reveal how their involvement in processing $600,000 in cash from alleged Fifa bribes was picked up in the US banking system.
Flight records and bank surveillance cameras show Daryan flying from Port of Spain airport in Trinidad to Miami and New York, where he made a series of deposits of €7,000 (currently $7,600) each into various US bank accounts.
The sum was designed to fit below the $10,000 limit imposed by banks – above which customers are required to show identification – but Daryan seemingly had not factored in the fluctuating exchange rate and was forced to ask a bank teller for €500 (currently $544) back when she demanded to see his driving licence.
The indictment reveals similar cash-ferrying trips by Daryll Warner, a US citizen, from Frankfurt to Miami. According to local press reports in Trinidad, he also raised the suspicion of American tax investigators by buying Florida apartments for cash.
The link between the Warner brothers and their father’s alleged involvement in the wider Fifa conspiracy remains to be proved, but the pursuit by US investigators over the past four years has not gone unnoticed.
• Culled from www.theguardian.com