FBI examines U.S. soccer boss’s financial records

WASHINGTON,  (Reuters) – The FBI is examining  documents charting more than $500,000 in payments made by a  Caribbean soccer group to a top U.S. official of the sport that  has been shaken internationally by corruption allegations.

Jack Warner

According to a U.S. law enforcement officer, a New  York-based FBI squad assigned to investigate “Eurasian  organized crime” is examining evidence related to payments made  to Chuck Blazer, U.S. member of the executive committee of  FIFA, the Zurich-based governing body of soccer.

Blazer is also general secretary of CONCACAF, the sport’s  governing body in North and Central America and the Caribbean.  He has recently sparked controversy by accusing two other top  international soccer officials of corruption.

The U.S. law enforcement official would not describe the  time frame or extent of the FBI inquiry.

But the official said the probe related to documents whose  existence was initially reported by the Independent newspaper  of London last weekend and on the www.transparencyinsport.org  website by British journalist Andrew Jennings, who specializes  in investigating alleged corruption in international sports.

In an e-mail to Reuters, Blazer denounced Jennings’ story  as “replete with errors” and said the journalist had a “clear  agenda.”

But Blazer did not deny receiving three offshore payments,  totalling more than $500,000. Instead, Blazer insisted that  “all of my transactions have been conducted legally.”

THREE PAYMENTS  

According to the documents, reviewed by Reuters, three  payments were made to offshore accounts maintained by Blazer  over the last 15 years.

Chuck Blazer

In a letter dated Jan. 29, 1996, Jack Warner, president of  the Caribbean Football Union, and until recently president of  CONCACAF and vice president of FIFA, instructs the vice  president of a bank to wire transfer $57,750 to an account at  Barclays Bank in the Cayman Islands maintained by a company  called Sportvertising Ltd. The letter says that if any problems  arise with the transfer, the bank should contact Blazer at  CONCACAF’s New York office.

A 1990 document, signed by both Blazer and Warner and  reviewed by Reuters, identifies Blazer as “President” of  Sportvertising Inc. The document, headed “retainer agreement”,  describes how CONCACAF, via the company, employed Blazer as its  general secretary, paying his company both monthly fees and “a  10% override feel on all sponsorships and TV rights fees from  all sources received by CONCACAF or for CONCACAF  programs/tournaments”, excluding “sponsorships arranged at the  local level on tournaments and events.”

Also examined by Reuters are records documenting a $205,000  payment to Sportvertising Inc., dated September 2010. The  records includes a notation indicating the payment was on  behalf of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU).

A third set of documents also in the FBI’s possession  relates to a purported $250,000 payment by the Caribbean  Football Union to Blazer earlier this year. A letter to a bank  supervisor dated March 31, 2011, signed by Warner, authorizes  the bank to issue a draft worth $250,000 to “CHUCK BLAZE” and  to debit the Caribbean Football Union’s account accordingly. A  second document purports to be a copy of a $250,000 canceled  check made out to Chuck Blazer.

BLAZER DEFENDS PAYMENTS
    

In e-mails to Reuters, Blazer said he had not been  contacted by the FBI or notified by them of any investigation.

He said two most recent payments to his company’s Caymans  accounts were in his view meant to be repayments to him by  Warner of “a significant amount of money” that Blazer says he  loaned to Warner in 2004.

Blazer said that as soon as he saw the most recent payment  — in the form of a check from the Caribbean Football Union —  he “immediately objected”.

“In the past few weeks I have learned that Mr. Warner  treated the CFU accounts as his personal accounts and  co-mingled a variety of funds in those accounts,” Blazer said.  He said he was now “working with the current CFU administration  to bring in forensic accountants to attempt to untangle this  mess.”

“My financial affairs have been structured legally and with  advice of counsel – a standard practice for individuals of my  age,” he said.

He also said Warner, once his close ally in tense and  tangled internal FIFA politicking, now is “attempting to attack  me for having disclosed his unlawful conduct.”

Warner did not respond to a query e-mailed to the  Trinidad-based office of the Caribbean Football Union.

Earlier this year, shortly before FIFA’s governing body was  scheduled to hold a vote on whether to re-elect the  organization’s president, Sepp Blatter, Blazer publicly  denounced Warner, a long-time ally, for his alleged involvement  in a plot to hand cash bribes to Caribbean soccer officials in  return for their votes to support a bid by Qatari soccer  official Mohammed bin Hammam to replace Blatter as FIFA chief.

In the wake of Blazer’s allegations, Hammam was  investigated by FIFA’s ethics committee on the bribery charges,  found guilty of corruption, and banned for life from the game.  Hammam is appealing against the FIFA life ban.

Last week, FIFA said it opened ethics proceedings against  16 Caribbean soccer federation officials related to the special  meeting of the Caribbean Football Union in May. Warner, a FIFA vice president and longest-serving member of  the world soccer groups executive committee, was suspended by  FIFA pending an inquiry into Blazer’s bribery allegations. In  June, he resigned from all his positions in international  soccer. FIFA dropped the investigation into Warner.

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