The U.S. Department of Justice has charged 14 defendants, including several high-ranking officials of FIFA, with 47 counts of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies in connection with what the department called a “24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer.”
The defendants charged in the indictment include high-ranking officials of soccer’s international governing body, including Jeffrey Webb and Jack Warner—the current and former presidents of CONCACAF—who were among those charged with racketeering and bribery offenses. Defendants also include U.S. and South American sports marketing executives who are alleged to have systematically paid and agreed to pay more than $150 million in bribes and kickbacks to obtain lucrative media and marketing rights to international soccer tournaments. One of those, Aaron Davidson, the president of Traffic Sports USA Inc., is a board member for the North American Soccer League, which announced it was suspending him from their board, as well as all business activities between the league and the company. Traffic Sports owns the league’s Carolina RailHawks franchise, which the league said would continue to operate “in the ordinary cause of business.”
Authorities in Switzerland have arrested seven of the defendants charged in the indictment, including Webb as well as Eduardo Li, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Eugenio Figueredo, Rafael Esquivel and José Maria Marin, at the request of the United States. A search warrant was also being executed at CONCACAF headquarters in Miami. Swiss authorities were also conducting a separate investigation into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, respectively.
Meanwhile, the Department of Justice also announced earlier guilty pleas of four individual and two corporate defendants in connection with the case. Those pleas included Charles Blazer, the long-serving former general secretary of CONCACAF and former U.S. representative on the FIFA executive committee; José Hawilla, the owner and founder of the Traffic Group, a multinational sports marketing firm headquartered in Brazil; and two of Hawilla’s companies, Traffic Sports International Inc. and Traffic Sports USA Inc., which is based in Florida.
“The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch. “It spans at least two generations of soccer officials who, as alleged, have abused their positions of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks. And it has profoundly harmed a multitude of victims, from the youth leagues and developing countries that should benefit from the revenue generated by the commercial rights these organizations hold, to the fans at home and throughout the world whose support for the game makes those rights valuable. Today’s action makes clear that this Department of Justice intends to end any such corrupt practices, to root out misconduct and to bring wrongdoers to justice—and we look forward to continuing to work with other countries in this effort.”
Nine of the defendants were FIFA officials or others working for FIFA member organizations:
Jeffrey Webb: Current FIFA vice-president and executive committee member, CONCACAF president, Caribbean Football Union (CFU) executive committee member and Cayman Islands Football Association (CIFA) president.
Eduardo Li: Current FIFA executive committee member-elect, CONCACAF executive committee member and Costa Rican soccer federation (FEDEFUT) president.
Julio Rocha: Current FIFA development officer. Former Central American Football Union (UNCAF) president and Nicaraguan soccer federation (FENIFUT) president.
Costas Takkas: Current attaché to the CONCACAF president. Former CIFA general secretary.
Jack Warner: Former FIFA vice-president and executive committee member, CONCACAF president, CFU president and Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) special adviser.
Eugenio Figueredo: Current FIFA vice-president and executive committee member. Former CONMEBOL president and Uruguayan soccer federation (AUF) president.
Rafael Esquivel: Current CONMEBOL executive committee member and Venezuelan soccer federation (FVF) president.
José Maria Marin: Current member of the FIFA organizing committee for the Olympic football tournaments. Former CBF president.
Nicolás Leoz: Former FIFA executive committee member and CONMEBOL president.
Four of the defendants were sports marketing executives:
Alejandro Burzaco: Controlling principal of Torneos y Competencias S.A., a sports marketing business based in Argentina, and its affiliates.
Aaron Davidson: President of Traffic Sports USA Inc.
Hugo and Mariano Jinkis: Controlling principals of Full Play Group S.A., a sports marketing business based in Argentina, and its affiliates.
The last indictment was for José Margulies, controlling principal of Valente Corp. and Somerton Ltd., who is alleged to have served as an intermediary to facilitate illicit payments between sports marketing executives and soccer officials.