FBI probes World Cup bids

...Chuck Blazer under spotlight

(Trinidad Express) As part of its continued investigation into possible corrupt payments to CONCACAF general secretary Chuck Blazer, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has launched a probe into the integrity of the World Cup bidding process last year when Russia and Qatar won the right to host World Cups 2018 and 2022, respectively.

The FBI is a United States criminal investigative body and has no jurisdiction over world football governing body FIFA, whose headquarters is in Zurich, Switzerland. However, the FBI’s interest in the investigation is said to derive from its investigations into alleged bribery payments made to an American, Blazer, who has been a FIFA committee member since 1996 and is said to have received commission payments totaling more than US$500,000.

As part of their investigation, British media reported earlier this week that the FBI had interviewed members of England’s failed World Cup bid to ask if they were aware of any corruption during their failed bid. The decision to hand the 2018 World Cup to Russia left British officials, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, Prince William and David Beckham, enraged, particularly in light of an expose on British television that there was an attempt in the Caribbean to sell votes.

The UK-based Daily Telegraph said that as part of an ongoing probe into corruption, the FBI had uncovered substantial evidence of attempts to hack the email accounts of the United States’ bid for the tournament, which was eventually awarded to Russia, and suspect the English bid may also have come under attack.

The FBI is probing whether there is any connection between issues involving the World Cup bids and possible payment to Blazer. US investigators are examining documents appearing to show confidential payments to offshore accounts operated by Blazer. The FBI is seeking to determine the legal status of these payments.

Blazer is contracted to work for CONCACAF, the regional football association for North and Central America and the Caribbean, but FBI officers are examining evidence that payments had allegedly come from the Caribbean Football Union (CFU), a separate regional body, which until his recent resignation was controlled by Minister of Works Jack Warner.

The most recent payment of US$250,000 was March 2010. Blazer deposited the cheque in a Bahamas account and initially claimed it was “repayment of a personal loan” he had made to Warner. Blazer later claimed Warner may have misused the CFU account and says he was prepared to repay the money if that is the case.

Investigations show that in September last year, Warner approved another CFU payment of US$205,000 to a private company operated by Blazer from Cayman. It is also alleged that another payment of US$57,750 went from the CFU to Blazer’s Cayman account.

Blazer denies any impropriety, saying: “All of my transactions have been legally and properly done, in compliance with the various laws of the applicable jurisdictions based on the nature of the transaction.”

Earlier this year, Blazer sparked an investigation into allegations of bribery in the FIFA presidential election when he claimed that his long-term ally and former FIFA vice-president Warner was involved in a plot to hand US$1 million in cash to Caribbean officials as bribes to vote for Qatar’s Mohamed bin Hammam, who was running against the sitting FIFA president, Sepp Blatter.

The subsequent scandal shook world football’s governing body.

A leaked internal report revealed FIFA investigators believed there was “compelling” evidence of a bribery conspiracy between Warner and Bin Hamman.

Warner resigned his post as FIFA vice-president and president of both the CONCACAF and CFU and the investigation was dropped by FIFA once he remained out of football. Bin Hamman was banned for life.

FIFA also imposed sanctions of varying degrees on Caribbean football officials who were investigated.

When contacted, Walter De Gregorio, FIFA’s recently-appointed communications director, said he couldn’t understand the motivation for the reported probe. De Gregorio said there had been no contact between the FBI and FIFA, but that FIFA would be willing to honour any requests for assistance with the investigation. De Gregorio also made it clear that whatever the results of the investigation, the results of the December 2010 vote in Zurich would stand.

“As far as FIFA is concerned there is no investigation whatsoever. Don’t ask me why the FBI is investigating. I don’t know. What I know is that (the FBI) is interviewing people who were involved in the (English) bid. Whatever the reason is, we have to find out,” he said.

“For us, Russia won the bid. I understand, that, you know, coming with Cameron, coming with Prince William and Beckham, and coming back with one vote–it’s hard, it’s pretty hard. I understand the disappointment, but at the same time you should give respect to who won the bid, to Russia.”

Meanwhile, Russia’s 2018 organising committee on Thursday denied any knowledge of the FBI probe and defended its conduct during the vote process.

“We at Russia 2018 are proud of the way we conducted ourselves throughout a long and highly competitive campaign; as an LOC, we are driven by exactly the same transparency, commitment to excellence and spirit of Fair Play that underpinned our successful bid,” the committee said in a statement.