A twisted web of bribes and money laundering

Federal law enforcement officials in the United States have been investigating FIFA corruption for years. On Wednesday, while announcing the new indictments, officials revealed they already had obtained six guilty pleas for corruption and racketeering in the football governing body dating to 2013. 

A bribery and kickback scheme involving a media and marketing contract for the CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament figured prominently in the charges against one former official who pleaded guilty, and many of those bribes ultimately ended up in a bank account in Cayman at Barclays Bank, later taken over by FirstCaribbean International Bank. 

The criminal charges, and subsequent guilty pleas, were kept under seal until Wednesday. In July 2013, Daryll Warner, son of Jack Warner who is named as a defendant in the most recent case, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and hiding money; in October 2013, Daryan Warner pleaded guilty to three counts, including money laundering and wire fraud; in November of that year, Charles Blazer, former CONCACAF general secretary, pleaded guilty to 10 charges, including racketeering and money laundering. More than a year later, in December 2014, Brazilian Jose Hawilla pleaded guilty to similar charges. Earlier this month, Hawilla’s two sports marketing companies pleaded guilty to wire fraud. 

The guilty pleas and new indictment include not just FIFA, but also CONCACAF, the football confederation for North and Central America and the Caribbean, and CONMEBOL, the South American football organization. 

The indictments detail bribery, kickback and money laundering schemes dating to the early 1990s. Blazer, former general secretary for CONCACAF, worked closely with Jeffrey Webb, who now faces indictment for his alleged role in more than two decades of alleged corruption. 

Allegations of corruption against Blazer, according to court documents unsealed this week, involve several long-running schemes. In 1993, Blazer and FIFA official Jack Warner, named in the criminal complaint as “Co-Conspirator #1” and a defendant in the most recent indictment, took a “six figure sum” as a bribe and kickback to get the contract to handle media and marketing for the 1996 CONCACAF Gold Cup. 

Hawilla and his company Traffic USA, identified as “Company A” in the criminal case, passed “hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks” to keep the media and marketing for the football tournament through 2003. 

Blazer passed much of this bribe money through wire transfers from a company in Uruguay to a Barclays Bank account in New York, and then to Barclays in the Cayman Islands, using a Cayman company, Sportsvertising, to receive the money.  

A $600,000 wire transfer into Blazer’s Sportsvertising account in February 2003, after Barclays had been taken over by FirstCaribbean International, raised alarm at the bank. The new bank required the document showing where the funds came from, court documents state. Blazer allegedly got a Panamanian company to backdate a “consulting services agreement” to explain the money. 

Blazer, according to court documents, allegedly agreed to vote for South Africa to host the 2010 World Cup in exchange for $1 million. The 2004 deal involved FIFA’s Jack Warner and Webb, identified in the documents as “Co-Conspirator #3,” who all voted in 2004 for South Africa’s successful World Cup bid. Blazer never did receive all the money he was promised from that bribe, but Warner did pass more than $750,000 to Blazer’s Cayman account, according to the indictment. 

Blazer pleaded guilty on Nov. 25, 2013 to 10 counts in the U.S., including wire fraud, money laundering, racketeering and other financial crimes. 

The Brazil connection  

The Traffic Group, a Brazilian sports marketing conglomerate, and founder and owner Hawilla, admitted their role in bribing Blazer and others to secure the media contract for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, starting with the tournament in 1994, according to the indictment. 

Hawilla pleaded guilty in the money laundering and racketeering scheme in December last year, and he also agreed to forfeit $151 million in the criminal case. Traffic Sports USA and Traffic Sports International, subsidiaries of Hawilla’s conglomerate, pleaded guilty to their role May 14 of this year. 

Traffic and Hawilla, court documents state, started bribing their way into football marketing deals in the early 1990s, securing contracts with CONMEBOL and CONCACAF. Traffic had the Copa America tournament commercial rights, organized by CONMEBOL, since 1993. The criminal court documents state: “The commercial rights to all editions of the tournament starting with the 1993 edition and continuing through the 2023 edition were obtained through bribery.” 

At least one CONMEBOL official demanded higher and higher bribes as the years went on, refusing to sign the contract until Hawilla paid, according to the documents. The contracts were lucrative for Traffic, which had more than $64 million from the 2007 Copa America, for example. A separate lawsuit in Florida stated that more than five billion people watched the 2011 tournament. 

CONCACAF’s Gold Cup follows a similar trajectory to the Copa America, with bribery proving a key factor in giving the marketing and media rights to traffic until 2003. Traffic and Hawilla lost the contract until the 2013 tournament, when an alleged $1 million bribe helped the company win the contract again. 

Court documents in the criminal cases, all filed with guilty pleas in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, show a pattern of bribery, money laundering and racketeering by football officials who ran world and regional organizations. They show years of work by investigators, looking into FIFA and its regional counterparts, reaching from Switzerland to South Africa to Cayman.