U.S. Prosecutors Say Qatar and Russia Bribed FIFA Officials to Win World Cup Bids

U.S. Prosecutors Say Qatar and Russia Bribed FIFA Officials to Win World Cup Bids

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 former FIFA officials to secure hosting rights for soccer’s World Cup.

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 salvo in a yearslong corruption case that has already produced convictions of numerous soccer officials and executives and depositions from former leaders of FIFA, soccer’s world 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 that picked Russia and Qatar as hosts. Russia defeated England and joint bids from Holland-Belgium and Spain-Portugal to host the tournament in 2018. 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 before he was accused of crimes in a 2015 indictment. 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 in an earlier soccer indictment, 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 and has faced a slew of accusations ever 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.

The allegations against the South Americans mirror those made by an 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.

The votes for the two World Cups were heavily marred by accusations of corruption. More than half of the people involved, including the former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, have been accused of wrongdoing.

The choice of Qatar — a place with such high temperatures that FIFA was required to move the World Cup to a cooler time of the year for the first time since the tournament debuted in 1930 — received most of the attention after the votes. But Russia, too, has faced a number of allegations of improper bidding behavior.

Russian officials told a FIFA panel that investigated its bid that they could not turn over computers used during the process to a FIFA investigator because they had all been destroyed.

Last May, almost a year after Russia staged the World Cup, Gianni Infantino, who came out of relative obscurity to secure the FIFA presidency after the corruption scandal took down almost all of FIFA’s senior leadership, received the Order of Friendship medal from President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.


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