Owen Gibson (Nov. 5) – Claims that a disgraced former Fifa executive turned FBI informant used a bugging device to record meetings with colleagues at the London 2012 Olympics have led to calls for the Serious Fraud Office to investigate world football’s governing body. The allegations, part of an investigation into Chuck Blazer by the New York Daily News, prompted the Conservative MP Damian Collins to renew his call for the SFO to investigate long-standing bribery and money-laundering allegations surrounding Fifa.
The newspaper claimed that, faced with a bill for unpaid income tax on millions of dollars of hidden earnings stretching back over a decade, Blazer agreed to cooperate with an investigation by the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service. Blazer recorded meetings on a bug hidden inside a key fob while staying at a Mayfair hotel during the Olympics. Most of football’s most senior figures were in London during the Games for meetings on the fringes of the sporting event.
Those Blazer invited to the meetings included the Russia 2018 organising committee chief, Alexei Sorokin, and Frank Lowy, the head of the Australian 2022 bid. It is not clear whether they actually agreed to meet with Blazer.
Peter Hargitay, an adviser to the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, was also reported to be on the list of those whose meetings with Blazer were bugged. He confirmed he did meet briefly with Blazer during the Games. “Anybody who was working with Blatter was obviously of interest. Although I don’t see what the hell I could contribute,” he told the Guardian. “All these things refer to a time when I was not involved in football.”
According to the reports, Blazer also agreed to allow the FBI to monitor his communications with 44 high-ranking football officials, including Blatter.
Collins, a long-term campaigner for Fifa reform, said the fact the meetings took place on British soil was enough for the SFO to launch its own investigation and demand evidence from the scandal-plagued Zurich-based governing body. He told the Guardian: “Their concern is about whether they had jurisdiction. This is proof they do have jurisdiction. There could easily be grounds for them to get involved. If they feel they have the jurisdiction they will.
“A request may have to be made to the Swiss authorities but it would be astonishing if Fifa failed to respond to the SFO. It would be quite a serious breach of trust to make the SFO go to the Swiss courts.”
The SFO said it had not yet received any information that showed the UK criminal courts would accept jurisdiction. A spokesman added: “We continue to monitor the situation and to keep the jurisdictional position under review.”
Blazer, who documented his indulgent lifestyle and boasted of his meetings with world leaders on his own blog, served on Fifa’s executive committee for 17 years from 1996. As the general secretary of Concacaf, he was the right-hand man to its controversial president Jack Warner.
In 2011, he helped provide evidence that implicated Warner and the prospective Fifa presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam in bribing members of the Caribbean Football Union. The Qatari Asian Football Confederation president Bin Hammam was forced to withdraw his challenge to Blatter and was later banned from football for life.
In April 2013, a Concacaf internal audit found Blazer had received $15m in hidden commissions since 1998 and had operated without a contract for that entire period. He resigned from Fifa’s executive committee shortly afterwards. Warner had already resigned from his all football positions a year earlier.
Among the documents published by the Daily News is a Social Security benefits summary that shows Blazer failed to declare income between at least 1992 and 1998, a period during which he received at least $21.6m in compensation from Concacaf.
The 2013 internal Concacaf audit revealed he had also claimed millions more in commissions on deals and expense and detailed a $29m credit card bill amassed by Blazer and his senior colleagues over seven years.
The newspaper report claims that Concacaf paid $18,000 a month for his Trump Towers apartment, in the same building as its offices, and a further $6,000 per month for an adjoining flat that was mostly used by his cats.
Blazer, now seriously ill with cancer, refused to comment on the claims when visited by the Daily News. Since 2011, when it first emerged that the FBI was investigating claims of tax avoidance and money laundering related to Fifa executives over the past two decades, the law enforcement agency has refused to comment.
The latest wave of claims come as the head of the adjudicatory chamber of Fifa’s ethics committee considers a report by former New York southern district attorney Michael Garcia into allegations of corruption during the 2018 and 2022 bidding race.
Hans-Joachim Eckert, the head of the adjudicatory chamber of Fifa’s ethics committee, has promised to make a statement by the middle of the month on the contents of the report but will not publish it in full. Those who have seen parts of the report claim that it contains enough evidence to implicate several individuals in wrongdoing but is unlikely to result in the hosts of either tournament being stripped of the World Cup.
Garcia spent 18 months investigating the bidding process and interviewed more than 75 witnesses. However, he could not compel any of those no longer involved in football – including Blazer, Warner, Bin Hammam and the former Brazilian football official Ricardo Teixeira – to give evidence.
Last month, he warned Fifa it needed to publish as much of the report as it could if it wanted to convince the public its culture had changed.
The 2018 World Cup was awarded to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar following a chaotic and controversial bidding race marked by allegations of collusion and corruption.
“What is astonishing is that Sepp Blatter seems to regard these things as a private matter for Fifa,” said Collins. “If we’re dealing with matters of bribery and corruption, it is a matter for the criminal courts.”
Source: The Guardian
Strange tale of Chuck Blazer presents historic opportunity to expose Fifa
My dears, I don’t care what you do with your first luxury Manhattan apartment: do not come to me with tales of decadence unless you have an outlandish use for your second. Urban mythology used to hold that one of Yoko Ono’s Dakota Building apartments was given over solely to housing her fur coats; in reality, it seems that madam does not dedicate the entire second property to this task, though the room reserved for storing the vast collection of pelts is entirely refrigerated.
With the case of the former Fifa executive Chuck Blazer, happily, there is no such disappointment. The FBI appears to have verified that the erstwhile ExCo member and Concacaf general secretary retained two luxury Trump Tower apartments: one for himself and one for his cats.
Naturally, it must be said that the Blazer moggies are not late-stage capitalism’s most lavishly indulged felines. Karl Lagerfeld’s cat, Choupette, has two maids – one for day and one for night – as well as a personal bodyguard and her own chef. Her myriad worldly goods include an iPad, though she declined to tap out the recent coffee table book celebrating her lifestyle in favour of having the work ghosted by two authors (Karl did the photos himself). Some of the finer Parisian restaurants have created dishes named after Choupette’s favourites, while one of her maids reveals she travels with “almost as many bags as Mr Lagerfeld”.
Quite how many bags Blazer travelled with is unclear. Given that his Amex bill alone is alleged to have been around the $29m mark, he must have set off with quite a few empties on each of his outbound flights in the humble service of football. And, of course, his literal blazers were so vast that once you’d crammed one of them into a suitcase there would scarcely have been room for an access-all-areas Fifa laminate. A shoo-in for the role of Greed, should Sepp Blatter ever have staged a Cavalcade of the Deadly Sins for the office Christmas party, Chuck was rendered so morbidly obese by the Fifa diet that he was required to journey from blow-out to blow-out on one of his “fleet” of mobility scooters.
Indeed, it was while astride one of these heroic workhorses on the way to a high-end Manhattan restaurant that he was apparently apprehended by the FBI – not the most hair-raising of vehicular chases, I grant you, but a worthy new entry into Fifa’s darkly comic canon. The federal agents presented Chuck Blazer, whose very name has always read like satirical shorthand for a certain type of sporting administrator, with a dossier. It alleged failure to pay tax for a decade on millions and millions of dollars of opaquely acquired income, and the sheer weight of it seems to have been sufficient to persuade Chuck to turn informer in time to make the amuse-bouches.
Reading between the lines of the New York Daily News’s fascinating scoop on the tale, it seems unlikely that we will discover if high-level Fifa traitors have the life expectancy of reforming Popes: Mr Blazer is now gravely ill with colon cancer. But it is notable that despite having been collared, Blazer continued to be hilariously outraged at the Feds’ attempts to crush his spirit. When they fitted him out with a bugging device in a key fob, and told him to put it on the table while holding meetings with various bigwigs during the London Olympics and elsewhere, Chuck objected out of deepest affront. According to the New York Daily News, “the simple act of tossing the keychain on a table was beneath a man of his stature”.
But toss it he was forced to, and it is the gleanings of those secretly recorded meetings, and the reported monitoring of Blazer’s written communications with Blatter and all manner of others, that would seem like a generational opportunity to expose Fifa’s workings, even if they weren’t coming amid the ongoing storm over the voting process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Within that context, they feel potentially historic.
Fifa is not a sporting body so much as a supranational entity, which demonstrates its ability to trump mere nation states and their constitutions every four years.
Whatever one thinks of some of Tory MP Damian Collins’s attempts to publicise himself via interfering in football, who could fail to support his current call for a Serious Fraud Office investigation off the back of reports that Blazer was bugging for the FBI on British soil? Forgive the endless repetition of this fact, but Fifa is not a sporting body so much as a supranational entity, which demonstrates its ability to trump mere nation states and their constitutions every four years. To investigate it properly was always going to take the concerted efforts of multiple and international government agencies.
Grimly amazing, really, that tales of Fifa corruption still retain the power to boggle – almost as grimly amazing, in fact, that it should take a country where soccer is still a minor sport to mount what could be the most unignorable challenge to the way in which it has allegedly been run for decades. But there are claims that the inquiry with which Blazer was assisting already involves a grand jury; either way, the FBI’s sights seem set indisputably high. If the Americans end up laying a glove on those powerful men long alleged to have fleeced the world in the name of sport, let no one ever be sniffy about their involvement in soccerball again. They will have done the greatest service to the game since … well, since we invented it, and all that.