(Bloomberg) The U.S. investigation of corruption in soccer’s governing body is moving to a new phase that will bring criminal charges against more people, the Internal Revenue Service’s chief investigator said in an interview.
How the case develops hinges in part on the fate of nine FIFA officials and five sports marketing executives charged in a racketeering and bribery indictment unsealed May 27, said Richard Weber, chief of the IRS Criminal Investigation Division. The prosecution, which has garnered worldwide attention, came two days before FIFA re-elected its embattled president, Sepp Blatter, 79, for another four-year term.
“It’s probably hard to say who is on the list for the next phase and the timing of that,” Weber said in a phone interview Friday. “I’m confident in saying that an active case is ongoing, and we anticipate additional arrests, indictments and/or pleas.”
The IRS joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. prosecutors in Brooklyn, New York, in building a case alleging sports-marketing executives paid more than $150 million in bribes and kickbacks over 24 years for media and marketing rights to soccer tournaments.
Blatter was asked at a press conference in Zurich Saturday if he was concerned that he would be arrested.
“Arrested for what? Next question,” he said.
Prosecutors charged Jeffrey Webb and Jack Warner, the current and former presidents of soccer’s governing body for North America, Central America and the Caribbean, or Concacaf. They secured guilty pleas from Charles Blazer, 70, the group’s former general secretary; Jose Hawilla, a Brazilian sports marketing executive, who agreed to forfeit $151 million; and Warner’s two sons, Daryll and Daryan.
Blazer admitted he participated in several bribery schemes involving soccer tournaments, including the World Cups in 1998 and 2010, according to court records. He took a $750,000 cut of a $10 million bribe to support South Africa’s host bid for the 2010 World Cup, according to the criminal charges he admitted.
The $10 million paid to Concacaf four years after after South Africa’s winning bid to host 2010 FIFA World Cup wasn’t a bribe, Johannesburg-based Sunday Independent reported, citing the president of the country’s soccer body, Danny Jordaan.
The money was South Africa’s contribution toward Concacaf’s soccer development fund, Jordaan said.
Blatter denied he was involved in the payment, which the indictment says was arranged by high-ranking officials at FIFA, the South African government and the bid committee.
“I have no $10 million,” Blatter said Saturday.
The IRS entered the case in 2011 when a Los Angeles-based agent, Steven Berryman, began a tax investigation of Blazer, Weber said. Blazer lived in a Trump Tower apartment, flew on private jets, dined at the world’s finest restaurants and hobnobbed with celebrities and world leaders.
His blog, “Travels with Chuck Blazer and his Friends,” featured pictures of Blazer with Hillary Clinton, Nelson Mandela and Prince William, among others. Blazer, now fighting cancer, drew the IRS into FIFA, Weber said. In late 2011, the IRS joined the FBI, which was separately probing FIFA.
The FBI probe arose from an inquiry into aspects of Russian organized crime by the Eurasian Joint Organized Crime Task Force in the agency’s New York office, the New York Times reported this week, citing people it didn’t identify.
IRS agents built an $11 million tax case against Blazer, Weber said.
“This started with a U.S. citizen beating a significant amount of taxes and using offshore tax havens in his criminal schemes,” Weber said. “Through the investigation of Blazer, relatively early on our agents were confident that there was widespread corruption within FIFA.”
Blazer secretly pleaded guilty in 2013 to racketeering conspiracy, wire-fraud conspiracy, money-laundering conspiracy, income-tax evasion and failure to file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, charges that were made public Wednesday. He forfeited more than $1.9 million at the time of his plea and has agreed to pay more money when he’s sentenced.
Confronted years ago by the IRS for failing to pay taxes, Blazer agreed to wear a hidden microphone in meetings with FIFA officials, the New York Daily News reported in November.
Weber wouldn’t name any individuals who are cooperating. “I’m comfortable saying in a case like this one, we do rely on individuals that have information about the inner workings of an organization,” he added.
Weber said that investigators traced financial records from 33 nations and obtained most of them through treaty requests.
HSBC, Barclays, Standard Chartered are studying transactions to ensure proper procedures took place, the London-based Sunday Times reported, citing unidentified people at lenders. Standard Chartered said it’s looking into two payments mentioned in the indictment, while HSBC and Barclays declined to comment to Bloomberg.
“When you’re talking about a $150 million-plus racketeering and money-laundering case, where you have to trace the bribe and kickback case through multiple accounts and intermediaries and offshore corporations and official ownership, it’s a maze of documents and a significant jigsaw puzzle that has to be put together,” Weber said.
“When you’re dealing with so many countries and so many different players, it is reasonable to spend a few years on a case like this,” he said.
The case is U.S. v. Webb, 15-cr-00252, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).
—With assistance from Renee Bonorchis in Johannesburg
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