Mon | May 22, 2017

Gordon Robinson: Corruption and political football

Published:Sunday | July 5, 2015 | 7:00 AM
FIFA's under-pressure president, Sepp Blatter.

One of my small band of Twitter followers suggested I should write a column on FIFA.

So, Roland (@roleli), this one's for you. But, I suspect you'll be disappointed. If you're expecting another round of FIFA bashing, you'll definitely be disappointed.

Everybody knows FIFA is fundamentally corrupt. As Dave Zirin, The Nation Magazine's sports editor famously said, "The idea of being shocked about bribery and racketeering at FIFA is like being shocked about jumping into a pool and finding yourself wet."

Everybody knows that on May 7, a 47-count indictment issued by the US Department of Justice (DOJ), naming 14 FIFA officials, was publicly unveiled. Everybody knows raids were carried out, especially in Switzerland, where seven top FIFA officials were arrested at a luxury hotel. Anybody uncertain about FIFA's mala fides need only ask himself how on God's Earth was Qatar (pronounced 'Cutter', please, I beg local broadcasters) selected for the 2022 World Cup? A country where construction workers die from heat while building stadia and where the temperatures can rise to more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit during summer was the best choice for a football World Cup? Nobody has to be Einsteinian to surmise, in the vernacular, that 'money drop'. What makes FIFA special is allegations that Morocco also paid to be selected, was 'outbidded', but its bribe wasn't refunded. Genius at work!

Everybody knows these criminal charges weren't laid by any country in which FIFA or any co-accused is resident. They were laid by the USA, a most committed, self-appointed world policeman. US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, all dressed up as a white knight on her white horse, rode to the rescue of poor nations like Russia (whose economy is in the midst of a significant upturn); South Africa (Africa's second-largest economy whose GDP has tripled since 1996); and natural gas and oil-rich Qatar (the world's richest per-capita nation) that were (apparently) forced at gunpoint to allegedly bribe these 14 gentlemen charged with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering to the detriment of world peace. The US has decided to protect these nations from rapacious fraudsters (allegedly) like:

alleged fraudsters

Trinidadian Austin 'Jack' Warner: Needs no introduction.

Caymanian Jeffrey Webb: An attorney-at-law who, at 26, became president of the Cayman Islands Football Association (CIFA), and at 47, president of CONCACAF, the youngest regional president in football history. Upon succeeding Warner as CONCACAF president, Webb launched an integrity report and audit into Warner's activities, which concluded that millions of dollars of funding had been misused. Webb has spoken out about racism in football AND warned in March 2015 that no World Cup finals could be played in Russia because of its racism problem. Webb was among those calling for the 'Garcia report' (that infamous FIFA-commissioned corruption report delivered to FIFA in September 2014) to be made public;

Uruguayan Eugenio Figueredo, 83 year-old former defender for the Hurricane Diving Club (Uruguay) and strong supporter of a reduction in the ban imposed on compatriot Luis 'Hannibal' Suarez, took over as president of CONMEBOL in 2013 (after decades as vice-president) in the aftermath of a corruption scandal that did in his predecessor. Figueredo himself stepped down a year later.

Brazilian José  Maria Marin, another 83-year-old. A Brazilian politician and São  Paulo governor between May 1982 and March 1983, he headed the Brazilian Football Federation between March 2012 and April 2015 and also served as head of the 2014 World Cup committee.

All 14 can't be listed here, but the point is, they are individuals with rights to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and we mustn't paint all with the same brush until Loretta Lynch proves her case in court. In the meantime, I ask how come the USA has been so vigilant in tracking down these modern Robin Hoods who allegedly

- robbed from the rich and gave to the poor (FIFA's and its less fashionable regions' coffers have improved considerably during the Blatter era) including themselves; and

- ensured football benefits were more evenly distributed than before.

It must be a source of permanent vexation to UEFA, for example, that waste-of-time regions like Africa and CONCACAF are now regularly sending more teams to World Cup Finals and benefiting financially from FIFA's democratisation. The DOJ alleges these gentlemen have confirmed fervent beliefs that charity begins at home, some of them becoming reclusive in furtherance of that fundamental principle. But it can't be denied that world football has prospered under their stewardship.

But, before a series of pompous anti-corruption officials jump down my throat, I know corruption is corruption and must be rooted out wherever it can be proven. Football is no exception, and FIFA corruption has become so rampant that it must be exorcised before real organised crime becomes attracted to it sufficiently to launch hostile takeover bids.

It matters not what may have triggered this investigation; it oughtn't to be trivialised. Perhaps it originated in sour grapes when USA failed to outbid Morocco, South Africa, Russia (OMG!) or Qatar to host an upcoming World Cup Finals. Maybe the USA was too poor (burdened by trillion-dollar public debt) to be able to afford to make the substantial private bid required for success

The 'why' isn't important. What's important is that this investigation must be supported by all well-thinking, law-abiding citizens. Loretta must be encouraged to root out all culprits; arrest, charge and convict whoever is involved wherever they're found, whether in Zurich, Port-of-Spain, Kingston or New York.

conspicuous absence

Speaking of New York, did anybody notice no Americans have been indicted in the latest twist? Hmmmmmm. Those indicted are accused of money laundering and wire fraud. At her May 27 lynching press conference, Lynch was flanked by FBI director James Comey and Richard Weber, head of the IRS criminal investigation division.

"This really is the World Cup of fraud, and today we are issuing FIFA a red card," Weber said as each speaker tried valiantly to out-cute the other. Comey said: "The defendants fostered a culture of corruption and greed that created an uneven playing field for the biggest sport in the world. Undisclosed and illegal payments, kickbacks and bribes became a way of doing business at FIFA."

According to Lynch, the next step in the FIFA corruption investigation is extradition, whereby federal officials will attempt to bring suspects to the United States to face allegations they arranged bribes at meetings on US soil, employed the US banking system in conveying the bribes, and created documents to cloak their activity.

"In short, these individuals, through these organisations, engaged in bribery to decide who would televise games, where the games would be held and who would run the organisation overseeing organised soccer worldwide."

Allrighty, then. Surely these US banks are co-conspirators? Or, at the very least, complicit and in breach of the same banking rules the hero of the anti-money laundering world has forced upon Jamaican banks? According to Loretta Lynch, FIFA racketeering has been going on for 24 years! What's likely to happen to these banks and their directors? Will Swiss police be swooping down on their overseas conferences anytime soon? Will they be indicted and threatened with 20-year prison terms? Will their property be confiscated? Will the long arm of US law enforcement crack down on them as well?

Don't hold your breath. Not a word was mentioned about any steps to be taken against a single US bank that slurped up these huge transactions with relish. And mustard. I'll bet dollars to stale donuts that no bank manager will be indicted, publicly shamed, or go to jail.

Obviously the signal sent by that paragon of law enforcement, the DOJ, is pellucid. Crime doesn't pay if you're foreign sporting officials who embarrass US sports facilities by spurning US offers to throw your humble sport a party and then make the mistake of being caught laundering money using US banks. However, if you're a US bank that facilitated these allegedly fraudulent acts, you get a prize.

I wonder how these indictments will pan out. What odds a plea bargain? Or just an ordinary bargain? What'll it cost for these defendants to get off with a wrist slap? What'll happen if FIFA transfers the 2022 World Cup from Qatar to USA? Only The Shadow knows ... .

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.