June 04, 2015 08:25
U.S. court records unsealed Wednesday show that a former executive committee member of FIFA, soccer's global governing body, admitted accepting bribes in connection with the 1998 and 2010 World Cups.
Charles Blazer, a U.S. citizen who spent two decades as one of the world's most powerful soccer officials, secretly pleaded guilty in November 2013 to 10 criminal counts in New York as part of an agreement with U.S. prosecutors, according to the partially redacted transcript of the hearing.
Blazer told a U.S. judge that he and others on FIFA's executive committee accepted bribes in connection with the choice of France as the host of the 1998 World Cup. He said he also accepted bribes linked to the 2010 event awarded to South Africa.
Also Wednesday, Interpol, an intergovernmental organization that facilitates global police cooperation, issued a "red notice" for two former FIFA officials and four executives on charges that included corruption and racketeering. They risk arrest anywhere in the world they travel.
The six are among 14 people indicted by the U.S. Justice Department on charges of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering in a scheme that prosecutors say involved sports media executives paying or agreeing to pay more than $150 million in exchange for marketing rights to tournaments.
Two of the six already have been charged in their home countries: former FIFA Vice President Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago, and former executive committee member Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay. Warner has been released, and Leoz was placed under house arrest.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that the FIFA corruption scandal and Tuesday's resignation of federation President Sepp Blatter offer an opportunity for football's governing body to "improve its public image and ensure its actions are consistent with its mission."
◆ Blatter Probe
Earlier, U.S. news outlets said Blatter was under investigation in the United States in connection with the FIFA corruption scandal.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch declined to comment on the FIFA investigation during a news conference Tuesday in Riga, Latvia, where she was attending an EU-U.S. Justice and Home Affairs Ministerial Meeting.
News that Blatter, 79, is the target of probes by federal prosecutors and the FBI came hours after he abruptly resigned his post during a news conference in Zurich.
Blatter, who on Friday had been re-elected to a fifth term as FIFA president, acknowledged that he did not "have a mandate from the entire world of football -- the fans, the players, the clubs, the people who live, breathe and love football as much as we all do at FIFA."
He admitted that "FIFA needs a profound restructuring" and pledged his commitment to that goal.
◆ Sponsors Praise Decision
Many of FIFA's multimillion-dollar sponsors praised Blatter's decision to step down. U.S. soft drink maker Coca-Cola said it was "a positive step for the good of sport, football and its fans."
Chung Mong-joon, the billionaire heir of Korea's Hyundai conglomerate and a former member of FIFA's executive board, announced Wednesday in Seoul that he was considering running for the FIFA presidency.
The Jordanian government announced that Prince Ali bin al-Hussein was also considering a run for FIFA's top job.
Prince Ali, who is the president of the Jordanian Football Association, lost to Blatter in the FIFA presidential election Friday.
Blatter has ordered an extraordinary congress of the football federation to choose a new president, and he said he would retain his presidential powers until then.
Election of a new FIFA president apparently will take months. Experts expect a vote could take place between December of this year and March 2016.
◆ Money Laundering, Bribery
Swiss authorities have launched a separate investigation against a group of individuals suspected of mismanagement and money laundering in connection with awarding the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar.
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