- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 27, 2015

As the bombshell FIFA corruption charges exploded onto the soccer world Wednesday, some of the sport’s biggest stars cheered, Russia denounced the probe as the latest example of U.S. overreach, and American prosecutors readied for the spectacle of suspects turning on one another to secure the best deal.

According to indictments unveiled in New York by U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, officials with world soccer’s ruling body and sports-marketing executives ran a 24-year bribery and corruption scheme that made more than $150 million from the process of deciding what countries would host some of the world’s biggest sporting events and which companies would get lucrative broadcasting and marketing rights.

“Beginning in 1991, two generations of soccer officials 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,” Lynch said at a news conference announcing the 47-count indictment against 14 individuals on charges of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering that carry up to 20 years imprisonment.

“They did this over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament,” she said.

And in a parallel set of legal maneuvers, Swiss officials seize records Wednesday at FIFA headquarters in Zurich to determine whether the decision to hold the next two World Cups in Russia and Qatar was tainted. By Wednesday evening, Swiss authorities had arrested seven people and were threatening to extradite them to the U.S.

Analysts told The Washington Times that the suspects will spend the next few weeks either fighting extradition to the U.S. or turning on one another in exchange for reduced charges and/or spending less time in jail, said George Washington law professor Jessica Tillipman.

“Either they’re going to fight or they’re going to cooperate,” she said. “If they cooperate, they will likely provide information to the U.S. government in exchange for a reduced sentence or penalty.”

Some of the officials may work through their legal representatives to fight extradition before they consider cooperating with prosecutors because they know that there is no point in negotiating with the U.S. government unless extradition is imminent, said former Department of Justice prosecutor Daniel Schneider.

Other officials might decide to start talking to prosecutors as soon as possible out of fear that everyone else who has been slapped with criminal charges has already started trying to cut a deal to reduce those charges, Schneider said.

For the accused, the difficult decision will be a “bit of a chicken and egg” scenario, said John Malcolm, a legal expert for the Heritage Foundation.

“The problem is if you’re going to put all your eggs in one basket of fighting extradition that you might lose,” he said. “And by the time you lose, it may be too late to cut yourself a favorable deal because you may be the last one standing, because everyone else may have pleaded already.”

Prosecutors said Wednesday’s indictments are only the start of their efforts and Schneider said he expects more as people start talking.

“Throughout the world in every continent except Antarctica there are probably people losing sleep wondering what U.S. prosecutors know or wondering: ‘Did I say anything to these 14 indicted people,’” he said.

Regardless of the eventual outcome, some of the sport’s biggest stars claimed vindication Wednesday of their longstanding complaints that FIFA is a corrupt organization,

Brazil’s Romario said “someone had to eventually arrest them one day.” Argentina’s Diego Maradona said his complaints led him to be “treated like a crazy person.”

“Now the FBI has told the truth,” he said in an interview with a Buenos Aires radio station.

One party not happy about Wednesday’s legal actions was the Kremlin, which profited from FIFA’s rulings now under a legal cloud.

Russia won the right to host the 2018 World Cup in a process that simultaneously gave the 2022 tournament to Qatar — a decision that immediately raised eyebrows. FIFA had awarded a tournament customarily held in July in 10 or 12 cities to a tiny (but wealthy) Arabian desert mini-state that has some of the world’s hottest weather and has never qualified for the World Cup.

But FIFA said Wednesday that those decisions will not be revisited, and Russia accused the U.S. of engaging in legal overreach.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich called the arrests “evidently another case of illegal extra-territorial implementation of American law.” Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko told The Associated Press that Russia has “nothing to hide” and said the Kremlin is “prepared to show everything” to Swiss authorities.

The U.S. indictment focused on the doings of CONMEBOL, the regional governing body for South America, and Miami-based CONCACAF, which governs soccer in the rest of the Americas.

According to Lynch, the indicted officials met in the U.S. to plan corrupt acts and used American banking and wire facilities to distribute bribe payments — both of which would give the U.S. at least some jurisdiction.

Among the FIFA officials under indictment are vice president Jeffrey Webb and Eugenio Figueredo; former vice president Jack Warner; Executive Committee member-elect Eduardo Li; former Executive Committee member Nicolas Leoz; Jose Maria Marin of the Olympic soccer organizing committee; development officer Julio Rocha; and Costas Takkas, an attaché to the president of CONCACAF.

The executives under indictment include Alejandro Burzaco of Argentine sports marketing business Torneos y Competencias; Aaron Davidson, president of Traffic Sports USA;, Hugo and Mariano Jinkis of Argentine sports-marketing business Full Play Group; and Jose Margulies of Valente Corp. and Somerton Ltd.

South American Confederation Executive Committee member and Venezuelan Soccer Federation President Rafael Esquivel was also apprehended, according to a Department of Justice statement.

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