New Arrests Show How Hard It Will Be to Clean Up Global Soccer

65th FIFA Congress

Joseph S. Blatter with Juan Angel Napout as he is re-elected as FIFA President during the 65th FIFA Congress on May 29, 2015 in Zurich, Switzerland.

Photographer: Alexander Hassenstein - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images
  • Corrupt conduct continued after May 27 indictment, U.S. says
  • `Nothing should be said over the telephone,' one official said

In Zurich, FIFA officials convened to announce plans to clean up global soccer. Swiss police had other plans: They arrested some of these self-professed reformers in a dawn raid on Thursday at a luxury hotel in the Swiss financial center.

Just as they had done in May, Swiss police swept into the Baur au Lac hotel, where guests pay up to $4,000 a night for five-star quality and sumptuous views of Lake Zurich. Their targets: two FIFA vice-presidents.

FIFA has publicly committed to leaving behind the old, corrupt ways of secret cash payments and rigged contracts spelled out in an indictment of 14 people unsealed May 27. But new charges Thursday took aim at 16 more soccer officials, spelling out fresh examples of criminal conduct that took place even after the U.S. rocked the soccer world with its initial charges.

Alfredo Hawit of Honduras is the head of Concacaf, soccer’s governing body for North and Central America and the Caribbean. He ascended to the post after his predecessor was indicted. After May 27, he told a co-conspirator “to create sham contracts” to hide bribes, and to lie to U.S. agents, according to the indictment in federal court in Brooklyn, New York. Hawit, 64, was arrested at the Baur au Lac.

With 12 guilty pleas entered in sealed courtrooms, the Justice Department has now charged 39 people and two sports marketing companies. Despite this tightening net, prosecutors charge, the corruption extended to friendly matches that the Salvadoran national team played on May 31 in Washington and June 5 in Chile.

Fabio Tordin, a Brazilian and former chief executive officer of Traffic Sports USA Inc. in Miami, agreed with a co-conspirator to pay a $5,000 bribe to a Salvadoran soccer official so that his team would play, according to the indictment. After the first indictment was unsealed, Tordin didn’t make the payment.

“In response, the Salvadoran official and others associated with him repeatedly pressured Tordin to make the payment, through telephone calls and letters and by traveling to the United States,” the indictment said.

In the indictment, prosecutors quoted defendants from conversations, suggesting they used recordings to build their cases.

Tordin met in Chicago on July 9 with two defendants, Brayan Jimenez and Hector Trujillo, according to the indictment. The men discussed how they had received bribe payments for the 2022 World Cup qualifying matches.

“Nothing should be said over the telephone,” Jimenez, the Guatemalan soccer federation president, said at the outset. “Nothing! Nothing! Nothing!”

Tordin met in Miami on Sept. 2 with Rafael Salquero, the former Guatemalan soccer president, according to the indictment. They discussed bribe payments, and Salquero said they should meet in person with a third defendant.

“The three of us are in the same s---,” Salquero said, according to the indictment.
Tordin, who is an executive with Media World LLC in Miami, pleaded guilty on Nov. 9, according to the U.S.

The arrests Thursday stole the spotlight from FIFA’s top executives, who were preparing to announce final proposals to reform the 111-year-old organization.

Days earlier, typically tight-lipped sponsors, including Coca-Cola Co., McDonald’s and Adidas AG, issued a second round of open letters calling for meaningful reforms and independent oversight.

FIFA’s proposed cleansing efforts include the introduction of term limits for top officials, a total overhaul of the management structure, the introduction of independent executives to oversee key financial decisions and compulsory integrity checks for members of all FIFA committees.

Another new defendant is Juan Angel Napout, head of South American soccer body Conmebol. He was arrested on Thursday. The night before, he was talking about plans to clean up world soccer.

In a Dec. 2 e-mail to Bloomberg News, Napout listed several of FIFA’s proposed measures and said Conmebol is “supporting all of it.” In an earlier exchange, he said he supported the U.S. investigation “from Day One.” Saying he’d had no contact with U.S. authorities, he added that the efforts to clean up the sport would “be amazing for Conmebol.”

Then he was woken from his bed, and walked into an unmarked car heading for a Swiss police cell. The indictment says Napout, who assumed Conmebol’s presidency in August last year, “sought to portray himself as an agent of reform, notwithstanding his own long-standing involvement in the solicitation and receipt of bribe and kickback payments.”

Instead, he was among South American soccer leaders who received an annual six-figure bribe from an Argentine sports marketer, it added. Napout awaits extradition to the U.S.

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