World football’s governing body Fifa is in turmoil after several leading current and former officials were accused by US investigators of offenses including racketeering, fraud and money laundering, involving millions of dollars and stretching back several years.
The subjects of the US indictments – nine with Fifa connections and five corporate executives – who now face extradition, did not include Fifa President Sepp Blatter, who is – at least for now – up for re-election to a fifth term on Friday; yet Wednesday’s developments have again raised questions about his reign at the head of the organization.
Announcing the 47-count charges, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that instances of corruption at Fifa covered in the allegations date back to 1991. Since then, she said, officials had “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.”
“They did this over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament.”
The Associated Press outlines the 12 “schemes” alleged by prosecutors.
Dan Roberts at The Guardian explains that before her recent appointment as AG, Lynch had spent years working on the case, and how a “well-placed insider” had helped bring events to today’s – at least for now – conclusion. He writes:
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.
In a dramatic day that began with early morning arrests in a luxury hotel in Zurich, a story first reported by the New York Times snowballed as more details emerged. After Fifa’s spokesman somehow described the developments as being “good” for Fifa, corporate sponsors weighed in; Visa, for example, saying its “disappointment and concern…is profound.”
Christopher Ingraham at The Washington Post looks at the “human toll of Fifa’s corruption” in the deaths of migrant workers in Qatar, during that country’s preparations to host the 2022 World Cup. Swiss authorities are currently pursuing a separate investigation into the award of the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, with which Fifa says it is “fully cooperating as the injured party”.
Carl Bialik at FiveThirtyEight writes on how Fifa’s structure “lends itself to corruption” while the NYT‘s Matt Apuzzo and Jeremy Schaap of ESPN tell Gwen Ifill on PBS Newshour why it took so long to crack down on the organization. According to Schaap:
A lot of it is about the fact that FIFA operates under Swiss law as essentially nothing more than a nonprofit, like a yodeling association. That’s often the analogy that is thrown out there.
So the fact that the Swiss cooperated and worked hand-in-hand with the U.S. Department of Justice and are conducting their own investigation, I think the importance of that cannot be overstated. And once the Swiss determine that they are going to oversee organizations such FIFA and the IOC in a different way, that might force them to be more accountable.
Owen Gibson at The Guardian wonders if today’s events represent the beginning of the end for Blatter’s Fifa.
For many in Switzerland, Fifa has gone from a source of pride to an embarrassment. The mood has changed and for Blatter, whatever the outcome of the vote on Friday, this is unlikely to be the end of the story. Following his grandstanding speeches at Fifa gatherings, Blatter likes to end with a flourish and the catchphrase: “For the game, for the world”.
Finally, It’s worth re-watching John Oliver’s takedown from last year at the beginning of the World Cup.
* WORLD * On what turned out to be a good day to bury news, Tony Blair announced that he would step down from his role as Middle East representative on behalf of the so-called Quartet – the US, Russia, the UN and the EU.
Nebraska became the first conservative state to repeal the death penalty in more than 40 years, with a vote which overrides a veto by the state’s Governor, Pete Ricketts.
British Prime Minister David Cameron is visiting European capitals as the first legislative step was taken towards a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.
As G7 finance chiefs gather in Dresden, pressure is again growing on Greece to strike a deal with creditors as its next debt deadline, on June 5th, nears. Bloomberg reports:
While Greece isn’t on the G-7’s official agenda and the group has no mandate to make a decision, the topic looks set to dominate discussions on the sidelines. The meeting, in a former palace of Saxon princes and kings, brings together officials from the euro area’s three biggest economies, as well as Greece’s three creditor institutions.
* POLITICS * Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum launched his second bid for the Presidency, supported again by billionaire Foster Friess, the largest single contributor to Santorum’s second-place finish in the 2012 GOP primary.
And his campaign is joining in what seems to be the current trend of “witty” error page messages.
Elsewhere, Rand Paul sought to distance himself from other Republicans by blaming “GOP hawks” for the rise of ISIS.
“ISIS exists and grew stronger because of the hawks in our party who gave arms indiscriminately, and most of those arms were snatched up by ISIS,” the GOP presidential candidate said Wednesday on “Morning Joe” on MSNBC. “These hawks also wanted to bomb Assad, which would have made ISIS’s job even easier. They’ve created these people.”
His comments drew a predictably high-profile reaction from one of his as-yet potential competitors.
But even that wasn’t without problems, as Jindal was then accused of using state funds for campaign purposes, given than his statement was issued from the Governor’s office rather than through his exploratory committee.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton was in South Carolina for the first time since losing the state’s primary in 2008. Politico writes:
Clinton — defeated by Obama and hobbled politically by her husband’s red-faced defense of his family’s civil rights legacy here seven years ago — returned to the site of her most scarring defeat to embrace her core message of women’s equality and to triangulate between two titans who decided her fate in 2008.
And a few days after Clinton claimed she wasn’t seeking a third Obama term, she went out of her way to make it clear to the predominantly African-American audience that she did view herself as Obama’s liberal successor.