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US prosecutors accuse Qatar, Russia of bribing FIFA officials to win World Cup bids

US prosecutors accuse Qatar, Russia of bribing FIFA officials to win World Cup bids
April 07
13:00 2020

The United States’ department of justice has presented fresh allegations of bribery against several former FIFA executive committee members, alleging that they “collected money in exchange for voting for Russia and Qatar to host the World Cup.

Qatar won the right to host the 2022 tournament over the US by a vote of 14-8.

But on Monday, a new indictment was unsealed in the US district court in Brooklyn against Nicolas Leoz, the late former president of South American football’s governing body (CONMEBOL), and Ricardo Teixeira, ex-president of Brazil federation.

According to the document, the duo — who were members of the FIFA committee which voted for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments during one of its meeting in 2010 — were accused of accepting payment of bribes in exchange for voting for Qatar’s bid.

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Leoz had died in 2019 under house arrest in his native Paraguay, having fought extradition to the US.

The accusations were the latest in years long corruption case that has already produced convictions of numerous soccer officials and executives as well as depositions.

The indictment also alleged that Jack Warner, Trinidad’s long-serving FIFA official, “received $5 million (£4.1m) in bribes to support Russia’s hosting of the 2018 World Cup.”

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Rafael Salguero, Guatemala federation president, was also promised a $1 million (£815,000) bribe to vote for Russia, according to the document, an updated third draft of charges in the indictment, which alleges 53 counts of illegal behaviour in total.

“The profiteering and bribery in international soccer have been deep-seated and commonly known practices for decades,” CNBC quoted William Sweeney, FBI assistant director-in-charge, to have said.

“Over a period of many years, the defendants and their co-conspirators corrupted the governance and business of international soccer with bribes and kickbacks, and engaged in criminal fraudulent schemes that caused significant harm to the sport of soccer.

“Their schemes included the use of shell companies, sham consulting contracts and other concealment methods to disguise the bribes and kickback payments and make them appear legitimate.”

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Hernan Lopez and Carlos Martinez, former executives at 21st Century Fox, US television giant, were also charged, in the indictment, with making payments to South American football officials to secure broadcast rights.

The indictment includes charges that the duo made payments to CONMEBOL officials to obtain US broadcast rights bidding information from a co-conspirator who was not identified in the indictment.

The ESPN had secured US television rights to the World Cup from 1994-2014, but in 2011, Fox gained the rights for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.

After the 2022 tournament in Qatar was rescheduled from summer to late autumn — a time when it is likely to receive less attention than normal in the US due to clashing with the NFL — FIFA had reportedly awarded Fox the rights for the 2026 World Cup without competitive bidding.

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Also charged in the indictment are Gerard Romy, who worked for Imagina media audiovisual in Spain, and the Uruguayan sports marketing company, Full Play Group SA.

The indictment includes charges of wire fraud and money laundering. The charges against Romy and Full Play also allege racketeering conspiracy.

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The indictment, detailed in the statement from the US attorney’s office, alleged that Lopez and Martinez joined Full Play and other co-conspirators in a scheme involving the annual payment of millions of dollars in bribes to officials of CONMEBOL in exchange for broadcasting rights to South America’s major club tournament, the Copa Libertadores.

“Lopez and Martinez also relied on loyalty secured through the payment of bribes to certain CONMEBOL officials to advance the business interests of Fox, including to obtain confidential bidding information for the rights to broadcast the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments in the United States, rights that Fox successfully obtained,” the statement said.

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Ever since the FIFA scandal surfaced in 2015, Qatar and Russia have always denied any wrongdoing. The two countries were also cleared of all accusations during FIFA’s own inquiry in 2017.

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