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Bribes used to secure FIFA 2018 & 2022 World Cup rights, U.S. Dept. of Justice indictment claims

By Vincent Ashitey

Russia and Qatar offered and paid bribes to secure votes in the process that saw them awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, an indictment in the United States alleges.

The document, brought by federal prosecutors in New York as part of the long-running investigation into corruption surrounding football's governing body, claims several former members of FIFA's executive committee were offered or indeed received bribes relating to their votes.

It is alleged that Ricardo Teixeira, the former president of the Brazilian Football Confederation, the now-deceased ex-COMNEBOL president Nicolas Leoz and a co-conspirator were offered and received bribes to ensure their votes for Qatar to stage the 2022 World Cup.

Former FIFA vice-president and ex-president of CONCACAF Jack Warner stands accused of being promised and receiving payments totalling $5 million (£4m) to vote for Russia to host the 2018 tournament.

Rafael Salguero, the former head of Guatemalan football who admitted to accepting a bribe in return for his vote in the process for the 2018 World Cup, is alleged to have been promised a $1m bribe to vote for Russia.

In addition, a pair of former executives at 21st Century Fox have been indicted by the U.S Department of Justice on charges accusing them of paying bribes in an effort to obtain confidential bidding information during FIFA’s sale of American television rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

The charges were unsealed on Monday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn as former Fox executives Hernan Lopez and Carlos Martinez are alleged to have made payments to officials of the South American federation CONMEBOL. Also charged are former Imagina Media Audiovisual CEO Gerard Romy and the Uruguayan sports marketing company Full Play Group SA.

In the indictment, which was handed up by a grand jury on March 18, Lopez and Martinez are accused of joining with Full Play to pay millions of dollars in bribes to CONMEBOL officials in exchange for rights to the Copa Libertadores.

Romy, meanwhile, is accused with joining his alleged co-conspirators to pay a $3 million bribe to former CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb for rights to home World Cup qualifiers in the Caribbean for the 2018 and 2022 cycles. Webb pleaded guilty to several corruption charges in November 2015.

According to the Justice Department, the indictment includes charges of wire fraud and money laundering while charges against Romy and Full Play allege racketeering conspiracy.

"The profiteering and bribery in international soccer have been deep-seated and commonly known practices for decades," said William F. Sweeney Jr., assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York field office, in a statement.

"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."

Fox outbid ESPN for rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in 2011 and, following FIFA's decision to move the 2022 tournament from summer to winter, Fox were given rights to the 2026 tournament without a bidding process.

The 2026 World Cup is expected to be a massive event in the U.S., who will host the tournament alongside Mexico and Canada as the competition comes to North America for the first time since 1994.

ESPN had previously held the U.S. English-language television rights to the World Cup from 1994-2014.

"It’s shocking that the government would bring such a thin case," Lopez’s lawyer, Matthew D. Umhofer, said in an email to the AP.

"The indictment contains nothing more than single paragraph about Mr. Lopez that alleges nothing remotely improper. Mr. Lopez can’t wait to defend himself at trial."

Steven J. McCool, Martinez’s attorney, said in an email: "We are certain a jury will swiftly exonerate Carlos, as the charges against him are nothing more than stale fiction."

Source: goal.com