Webb pleads guilty in FIFA probe, will forfeit US$6.7M

Webb pleads guilty in FIFA probe, will forfeit US$6.7M

Cayman Islands businessman Jeffrey Webb has pleaded guilty to seven charges in a 15 count indictment against him related to the U.S. Department of Justice probe of racketeering and bribery schemes in world football’s governing body, FIFA. 

Webb, a former FIFA vice president, former president of CONCACAF, FIFA’s governing body for the Caribbean, North and Central America, and suspended president of the Cayman Islands Football Association, entered his guilty plea on Nov. 23. The plea was not publicly announced until Thursday. 

As part of the plea, Webb agreed to forfeit more than US$6.7 million, federal prosecutors said. Webb could also face up to 20 years’ imprisonment. His case is set for a status conference in U.S. federal court on Dec. 16. 

Attempts to reach Webb’s attorney Edward O’Callaghan in New York on Thursday were not successful. 

Webb was arrested in Zurich, Switzerland, in May, and was later extradited to the U.S. 

Webb’s guilty plea was announced as federal investigators expanded their worldwide probe into the FIFA organization, charging 16 more people – mostly representatives of Central and South American football associations who were not named in an indictment filed in May. 

The new 92-count indictment supersedes, meaning encompasses and replaces, the 47-count indictment in May, in which 14 FIFA and sports marketing officials were charged with soliciting and accepting bribes in exchange for awarding the commercial rights to certain football tournaments to sports marketing companies. 

The new indictment goes further than the one released in the spring, encompassing illicit activities in connection with the 2018 and 2022 World Cup events and covering a much greater amount in alleged total bribe payments. 

“The betrayal of trust set out [in the indictment] is truly outrageous,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Thursday. “These defendants sought to institutionalize corruption to make sure that it lived on.” Two other defendants named in the May indictment pleaded guilty along with Webb: sports marketing executives Alejandro Burzaco and Jose Margulies. 

Five other people who were under investigation in connection with the FIFA probe, but who had not yet been named in public indictments, also pleaded guilty. Two were marketing executives at U.S.-based companies. 

New charges  

One of the defendants newly charged in the probe was Webb’s replacement as president of CONCACAF, Alfredo Hawit. 

Hawit, of Honduras and who was understood to be based in Miami, was named CONCACAF president following Webb’s arrest on May 27 in Switzerland. Former CONCACAF executive committee member Eduardo Li is also charged in the U.S. racketeering case, and former CONCACAF president Jack Warner of Trinidad has been charged in the FIFA bribery case. Arrested along with Hawit in Switzerland early Thursday was the president of CONMEBOL, FIFA’s South American football confederation, Juan Angel Napout of Paraguay. 

“Three consecutive presidents of CONCACAF … and three consecutive presidents of CONMEBOL, the South American region of FIFA, have been indicted on charges of racketeering,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Capers of the Eastern District of New York. 

Both men are charged, along with 14 others, in a further U.S. federal court indictment released from the Eastern District federal court on Thursday. 

“In … light of further investigations conducted by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, these individuals are now also suspected of having received bribes,” a Swiss Federal Office of Justice statement noted. 

“The high-ranking FIFA officials are alleged to have taken the money in return for selling marketing rights in connection with football tournaments in Latin America, as well as World Cup qualifying matches.” 

According to the arrest requests from the U.S., some of the offenses allegedly involved bribe payments processed at U.S. banks. CONCACAF released the following statement about Thursday’s arrests: 

“The Confederation of North, Central American and the Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) was made aware of the arrest of several international football officials that took place this morning in Zurich and that included the confederation’s acting and statutorily appointed President, Mr. Alfredo Hawit. 

“CONCACAF remains committed to implementing fully the Reform Framework that it announced in July of this year. The majority of these reforms have already been implemented in CONCACAF’s administrative and compliance structures. 

“Thursday’s developments only strengthen the confederation’s resolve in continuing to enact significant structural and governance changes to the organization, including substantial amendments to its statutes and fundamentally changing how it conducts business.” 

Jeffrey Webb

Attorney General Loretta Lynch speaks

Attorney General Loretta Lynch speaks during a news conference about the corruption case on FIFA and the arrest of two officials at Department of Justice in Washington, DC, on Thursday. – PHOTO: AP

Attorney General Loretta Lynch

Attorney General Loretta Lynch, accompanied by, from left: IRS Criminal Investigation Chief Richard Weber, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Robert Capers, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Evan Norris and FBI Assistant Director in Charge of the New York Field Diego Rodriguez, speaks during a news conference about the corruption case on FIFA and the arrest of two officials at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC, on Thursday. – PHOTO: AP