Updated: April 7, 2020 9:21:20 am
By Tariq Panja and Kevin Draper
For nearly a decade, Russia and Qatar have been suspected of buying votes to win hosting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. On Monday, for the first time, the Department of Justice put things in black and white.
After years of investigations and indictments, the United States Department of Justice on Monday said for the first time that representatives working for Russia and Qatar had bribed FIFA officials to secure hosting rights for the World Cup in men’s soccer.
Prosecutors made the accusations in an indictment charging three media executives and a sports marketing company with a number of crimes, including wire fraud and money laundering, in connection with bribes to secure television and marketing rights for international soccer tournaments.
The accusations were the latest in a yearslong corruption case that has already produced convictions of numerous soccer officials and executives as well as depositions from former leaders of FIFA, world soccer’s governing body. Never before, though, have prosecutors so clearly described the scheme that helped deliver the votes that gave Russia and Qatar hosting rights for one of the world’s biggest sporting events.
The U.S. prosecutors on Monday explicitly revealed details about money paid to five members of FIFA’s top board ahead of the 2010 vote to choose Russia and Qatar as hosts. Russia defeated England and joint bids from Holland-Belgium and Spain-Portugal to host the 2018 men’s tournament. Qatar, a tiny desert state that has spent billions of dollars to prepare for the 2022 World Cup, defeated the United States in a runoff by a group of voters that had already been trimmed because two members had been secretly filmed agreeing to sell their votes.
Three South American officials, according to the indictment, received payments to vote for Qatar.
One of the officials, Julio Grondona of Argentina, died in 2014. Another, Nicolás Leoz, died in Paraguay last year while under house arrest and fighting extradition to the United States. The third man, Ricardo Teixeira, the former leader of soccer in Brazil, remains in that country, which does not have an extradition treaty with the United States.
Leoz and Teixeira were indicted in 2015 on charges related to bribery schemes to sell lucrative soccer rights to sports broadcasters.
The U.S. prosecutors also stated in Monday’s indictment that the former soccer official Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago, who has been fighting extradition to the U.S. since 2015, received $5 million through a string of shell companies to vote for Russia. Some of the money, the indictment said, came “from companies based in the United States that performed work on behalf of the 2018 Russia World Cup bid.”
Rafael Salguero, a Guatemalan soccer official who pleaded guilty in 2016 to money laundering and fraud charges, received $1 million to give his vote to Russia, the indictment said.
None of the former soccer officials were immediately available for comment. Officials at Russia’s soccer federation and FIFA did not reply to an email sent after business hours to request comment.
Qatar has long denied allegations of acting improperly despite facing a slew of accusations since it started bidding for soccer’s biggest prize.
A FIFA document alluded to the bribery scheme last year. The names of Grondona, Leoz and Teixeira and references to payments they received were included in an ethics document justifying a lifetime suspension of Teixeira from FIFA.
The allegations against the South Americans mirror those made by Alejandro Burzaco, a former Argentine television executive who turned state’s witness after being named as a central figure in the soccer corruption case. He said at the New York trial of three other officials in 2017 that Leoz, Grondona and Teixeira had been paid to vote for Qatar.
More than half the people involved in the votes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, including the former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, have been accused of wrongdoing, though not necessarily criminally charged.
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