US prosecutors yesterday said FIFA officials took bribes in connection with the award of the 2018 and 2022 men’s football World Cups to Russia and Qatar.
The accusations were contained in the indictment of two former 21st Century Fox executives accused of paying millions of dollars in bribes to secure lucrative media and marketing rights to football matches.
The indictment, which was unsealed yesterday in New York, alleged that Nicolas Leoz, the Paraguayan former president of South America’s football governing body Conmebol, and the former Brazillian football boss Ricardo Teixeira were paid bribes to vote for Qatar to land the tournament.
Jack Warner, the Trinidadian former president of the governing body for North and Central America – Concacaf – is alleged to have received $5m in bribes to back Russia’s bid for the 2018 tournament.
The cash is alleged to have come from 10 shell companies in offshore jurisdictions such as the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and Cyprus.
The indictment alleged that former Guatemala federation president Rafael Salguero was offered a $1m bribe to vote for Russia.
Leoz died last August, while Warner and Teixeira have so far evaded extradition to the US to face prosecution.
In 2018 Salguero pleaded guilty to fraud and racketeering conspiracy charges.
A spokesperson for FIFA said: “FIFA supports all investigations into alleged acts of criminal wrong-doing regarding either domestic or international football competitions, and will continue to provide full cooperation to law enforcement officials investigating such matters.”
And added: “So far as FIFA is concerned, should any acts of criminal wrong-doing by football officials be established, the individuals in question should be subject to penal sanctions.”
The former Fox executives, Hernan Lopez and Carlos Martinez, were indicted in Brooklyn federal court on wire fraud and money laundering charges along with Gerard Romy, former co-chief executive of Spanish media company Imagina Media Audiovisual, and Full Play Group, a Uruguayan sports marketing company.
“It’s shocking that the government would bring such a thin case,” said Matthew Umhofer, a lawyer for Lopez.
Steven McCool, a lawyer for Martinez, said the charges against his client were “nothing more than stale fiction.”
“Our client looks forward to vigorously defending itself against all of the charges at trial,” said Carlos Ortiz, a lawyer for Full Play.
According to the indictment, Lopez, 49, served as chief executive officer of a Latin American Fox subsidiary, while Martinez, 51, served as its president. They worked with Full Play to bribe officials at Conmebol, in exchange for rights to events including the Copa Libertadores club tournament, prosecutors said.
Romy, 65, took part in a scheme to bribe officials of the Caribbean Football Union and Central American Football Union to secure rights to World Cup qualifying matches, prosecutors said.
The alleged conduct occurred before Walt Disney acquired most of 21st Century Fox in 2019.
More than 40 people and entities have been charged in the case since 2015 and 26 people have pleaded guilty.
Former Conmebol head Juan Angel Napout, of Paraguay, and former Brazilian football chief Jose Maria Marin were convicted after a trial in 2017 and sentenced to prison.
Marin, 87, was granted early release last month because of the health risk posed to elderly inmates by the coronavirus pandemic. Napout, 61, is also seeking early release.