Corruption allegations dog FIFA under Sepp Blatter

Accusations of bribery and vote rigging began early in Blatter’s 17 years as the world soccer federation’s president

FIFA, the world soccer body, is often compared to a nation-state, and its president a dictator. But after four terms at the helm of the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), Sepp Blatter faces the most significant crisis of his reign.

The U.S. Justice Department alleges the organization is guilty of corruption, bribery and vote-buying in the process of deciding which countries host the World Cup. The U.S. on Wednesday charged 14 people with fraud, but the history of allegations of wrongdoing dates to the beginning of Blatter’s reign.

The 111-year-old organization oversees 209 national associations with an annual revenue stream of over $1.3 billion and about the same amount in cash reserves. By selling the commercial rights to soccer tournaments that are then sold “downstream” by sports marketing companies, Zurich-based FIFA generates enormous profits from sponsorship — estimated at $2.6 billion for the 2014 Brazil World Cup, according to FIFA's financial report.

Investigators say that Blatter’s tenure has been plagued by ethical and legal transgressions. Analysts say that a FIFA patronage system has kept its power structure largely intact.

June 8, 1998:  Blatter becomes president of FIFA in controversial election

Joseph 'Sepp' Blatter, one day before being elected head of FIFA.
Werek / Ullstein Bild / Getty Images

Having worked at the organization since 1975, Joseph “Sepp” Blatter is elected the eighth president of FIFA, succeeding João Havelange. The vote, in which Blatter, a Swiss administrator beats out Lennart Johansson, a Swede, is mired in controversy.

Twenty FIFA delegates allegedly received $50,000 each — a total of $1 million — from a Middle Eastern leader who flew the cash by private jet to Paris, according to British author David Yallop’s book How They Stole the Game. In Amsterdam, Dutch judge Orobio de Castro later defends the author’s right to probe potential financial crimes at FIFA, and high-ranking African soccer official Farah Addo corroborated the allegations in an investigation by the London-based Daily Mail newspaper.

May 4, 2002: Blatter's second term

FIFA President Joseph Blatter speaks to the press in Zurich, Switzerland, on Monday, April 22, 2002.
Gaetan Bally / Keystone / AP

Blatter’s re-election is plagued by new allegations of financial irregularities. FIFA general-secretary Michel Zen-Ruffinen accused Blatter of corruption in a report given to the organization’s executive committee. In a "strictly confidential" 21-page dossier obtained by Reuters, Zen-Ruffinen described cronyism, illegal payments and deception that he said had characterized Blatter’s first term. The accusations are presented in advance of the election, in which Blatter defeats Cameroonian Issa Hayatou.

“There is no crisis at FIFA. This is all a total misunderstanding,” says Blatter at a press conference attended by Zen-Ruffinen, where the FIFA chief pledged to respond to the allegations within one week.

Dec. 6, 2006:  FIFA vice president is warned over ticket scam

Jack Warner at a news conference, July 5, 2005, in Miami.
Luis M. Alvarez / AP

After his native Trinidad and Tobago qualifies for the World Cup in Germany, FIFA Vice President Jack Warner takes over the marketing of tickets in his home country.

An investigation by FIFA's disciplinary committee reveals that his family business is profiting from reselling tickets at three times their face value. As a result, Warner receives a warning from FIFA's disciplinary committee.

On June 20, 2011, facing bribery allegations, Warner resigns from his soccer posts. FIFA said in a statement: “As a consequence of Mr. Warner’s self-determined resignation, all Ethics Committee procedures against him have been closed and the presumption of innocence is maintained.”

Nov. 18, 2010:  FIFA executives suspended for bribery

FIFA President Sepp Blatter (R) talks to Reynald Temarii, a member of the FIFA executive committee, on June 10, 2010 in Sandton, South Africa.
Alexander Hassenstein / Getty Images

One of FIFA's most senior figures, Amos Adamu, a Nigerian, is accused of bribery.

Adamu, who served as an executive committee member of FIFA starting in 2006, is suspended for three years and ordered to pay a fine of 10,000 Swiss francs ($10,516) after FIFA's ethics committee said he breached rules by offering to sell his votes in deciding which countries would host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Executive committee member Reynald Temarii of Tahiti is suspended for a year and ordered to pay a fine of 5,000 Swiss francs ($5,258). Four other officials are suspended provisionally.

FIFA suspended Temarii again on May 13, 2015, this time for eight years, for accepting more than 300,000 euros ($327,051) from former Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President Mohamed bin Hammam.

Dec. 2, 2010: Russia, Qatar win bids to host 2018, 2022 World Cups

A replica of the FIFA World Cup trophy is on display at the Souq Waqif traditional market on October 24, 2011 in Doha, Qatar.
Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Russia wins the bid to host the 2018 World Cup, as Qatar wins the bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

FIFA later says it was wrong to run the two votes simultaneously in the 22-person executive committee.

The 2022 event would be the first World Cup hosted in the Middle East, but questions swirl about how the games would fare if played at the usual time in the summer months, when weather conditions in the Gulf country would be extremely hot. FIFA later says the cup will be played in the winter, with a final on Dec. 18.

In addition to human rights issues with migrant laborers constructing the stadiums and other infrastructure for the games, FIFA faces a barrage of criticism for how the bid was awarded.

May 10, 2011:  UK parlimentary inquiry alleges payoffs by Qatar

Issa Hayatou of Cameroon and Jacques Anouma of the Ivory Coast were paid by Qatar, says a member of the British parliament, Damian Collins, citing evidence from a major undercover investigation by the Sunday Times newspaper.

Football Association chairman Lord Triesman alleges at the same House of Commons hearing before a group of MPs that four FIFA executive committee members had asked for favors in return for votes, although FIFA later says all of the men have been cleared of wrongdoing in an independent report.

July 23, 2011: Qatari soccer official banned for life

AFC President Mohamed bin Hammam greets Sepp Blatter, right, upon his arrival at the airport in Doha on December 16, 2010.
AFP/Getty Images

Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar, former head of the AFC, is banned for life by a FIFA ethics committee after a hearing into bribery allegations.

He was accused of giving cash pay-outs to top soccer officials for their votes, leading him to withdraw from the presidential race against Blatter on June 1. Although an appeal is rejected by FIFA, the Court of Arbitration for Sport eventually annuls the ban in July 2012.

In December 2012, FIFA imposes a second lifetime ban, revealing “conflicts of interest” while he served as AFC president.

July 17, 2012: Garcia appointed to investigate bidding processes

Blatter appoints an ethics board chaired by U.S. lawyer Michael Garcia to look into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting bids.

The move comes more than a year after the release by Warner of an email from FIFA General-Secretary Jérôme Valcke purportedly stating that Qatar had “bought” the World Cup.

Sept. 5, 2014: Garcia files report seen by limited audience

Michael Garcia listens at press conference at the Home of FIFA in Switzerland.
Walter Bieri / Keystone / AP

Although Garcia hands in his work, Hans-Joachim Eckert, chairman of FIFA’s adjudicatory chamber of ethics committee, the other half of the investigation set up to probe corruption allegations, says legal reasons prevent publication of the full report.

Garcia disagrees, arguing the full 350-page text should be made public.

Domenico Scala, chairman of FIFA's audit and compliance committee, ultimately decides how much of the report can be seen by the executive committee.

NOV. 13, 2014: Eckert publishes summary of the report

Hans-Joachim Eckert in 2012.
Pressefoto Ulmer / Ullstein Bild / Getty Images

Despite publishing a 42-page summary of Garcia’s damning report, Eckert says there is not enough evidence to reopen the bidding process. FIFA says the controversy is over, but Garcia said his position has been misunderstood, alleging “numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions."

Serious problems emerge, however, with two FIFA whistleblowers accusing Garcia of not sufficiently protecting their anonymity. Then, on Dec. 5, a third whistleblower, Les Murray, adds fresh allegations of bribery and corruption.

Meanwhile, Russia claims that it could not find documents relating to its bid.

Garcia resigns from the FIFA ethics committee one month later, in protest, after an appeals panel repudiates his challenge to Eckert’s ruling.

May 27, 2015: Swiss authorities arrest FIFA officials as US charges 14 people

FBI agents prepare to enter the offices of CONCACAF, the soccer federation that governs North America, Central America and the Caribbean, in Miami Beach, Fla., May 27, 2015.
Gaston De Cardenas / Reuters

Swiss law enforcement agents arrest seven top FIFA officials in Zurich on bribery and racketeering charges brought by the U.S., and Swiss prosecutors announce a criminal case in connection with the awarding of hosting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Fourteen figures named in a 47-count indictment unsealed at a federal court in New York City and face extradition to the U.S. for questioning.

The kickback scheme involves $150 million and spans a 24-year period. Among those charged are FIFA Vice President Jeffrey Webb and Jack Warner — the current and former presidents of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF). FIFA "provisionally" bans 11 individuals from football-related activities.

“We welcome the actions and the investigations by the U.S. and Swiss authorities and believe that it will help to reinforce measures that FIFA has already taken to root out any wrongdoing in football,” reads a statement from Sepp Blatter.

FIFA spokesman Walter de Gregorio says plans for future World Cups will not be affected.

Blatter hopes for another term as president

After several notable challengers dropped out of the race, only Jordan’s Prince Ali bin Hussein remains to oppose Blatter in the vote slated for May 29. Five of FIFA’s six continental associations support Blatter, while only UEFA, the European body, is against him.

Before dropping out, Dutchman Michael van Praag had promised to serve just one four-year term to modernize the body and increase transparency. "This process is a plebiscite for the delivery of absolute power to one man — something I refuse to go along with," said former Portugal forward Luis Figo, who also pulled out of the race.

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