Today, I conclude my four-part series on the above question posed to me recently by a colleague. In Part I, I responded that only the US government had the wherewithal and will to do so and that it continued the administration’s fight against the scourge of corruption. For Part II I focused on corruption on the pitch and how bribery and corruption ‘changes the truth of the game’ of soccer (AKA Football). In Part III, I reviewed why American citizens should care that US companies are not engaged in bribery and corruption. Today we look at reason number four of why Americans should care about the Department of Justice (DOJ) bringing indictments against the 14 named defendants who were all associated with the governing body of international soccer, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). Up today is the invidiousness of corruption, that it is not a victimless crime and how its scourge hurts countries.
Jack Warner, the former FIFA Executive Committee member and head of the North American regional soccer federation CONCACAF, is alleged to have received a $10MM bribe to swing votes to South Africa so that it could land the hosting of the 2010 World Cup. However Warner had (allegedly) been previously paid by Morocco for his votes. The Sunday Times, in an article entitled “‘Please, this is very secret’ –the explosive claims of bribery and vote-rigging that Fifa decided to kick into the long grass”, reported that two former FIFA officials, Ismail Bhamjee and Michel Bacchini told the paper that Warner had been paid $1MM by Morocco to secure his vote but Warner double-crossed the country by selling out to South Africa for $10MM. Where is a little honor among crooks? The answer may be in the character of Jack Warner, who is a Minister of Parliament in Trinidad and was once a government minister, but resigned because of fraud allegations. Is that the type of character you really want in your government? What do you thing that type of politician will do when faced with an ethical dilemma? (Hint-take the money)
What about South Africa and its role as an alleged bribe payor? South Africa originally denied any payment was made. However, in an article in the Sunday Times, entitled “Trinidad’s ‘Robin Hood’ plots escape from sheriff”, Tony Allen-Mills reported that the country later changed its story to say that the payment was made to Warner “to fund football development.” Even assuming it was a charitable donation, one can only conclude there were zero protections around the payment.
For we next were told that South Africa did not actually make the payment but FIFA did directly. Amazingly, and pulling a full 180 degree Bat-Turn from his previous positions, the Secretary General of FIFA, Jérôme Valcke said on Wednesday said that he had authorized a $10 million payment to Warner after a full 13 days of denying it. The Sunday Times also reported that US authorities were investigating former FIFA President Sepp Blatter about a meeting, where he was present, and this payment was discussed.
Whoever made the payments, Ed Thomas, in a BBC online article entitled “Fifa corruption: Documents show details of Jack Warner ‘bribes’”, reported that this $10MM was not used for any soccer development in Trinidad but was used by Warner himself. Thomas reported that three payments were made into CONCACAF accounts controlled by Warner, one on January 4, 2008, one on February 1, 2008 and a final payment on March 10, 2008; all adding up to $10MM. Thomas also reviewed documents to show how the money was either laundered and then paid back to Warner or simply used to pay Warner’s personal expenses such as personal loans and credit card bills.
To those who maintain that bribery is a victimless crime, simply imagine what a country like Trinidad could do with $10MM to invest in its soccer programs and infrastructure? How many youth academies could be funded with that amount of money? How many soccer fields could be built? The answers is lots and lots but when corruption is so endemic that a $10MM bribe can be paid with such ease, with no oversight or even questions being raised, it is the citizens of Trinidad who are the victims.
But more than simply Jack Warner and his corruption in Trinidad are at play here. Even world soccer power Brazil has welcomed the investigation into FIFA, as one of those arrested was José Maria Martin, the former head of Brazil’s soccer federation, the CBF. Writing in the Financial Times, (FT) Joe Leahy, in an article entitled “Arrests sparks hope of cleaner Brazilian game”, wrote, “For Brazil, his arrest prompted hopes that finally one of the dirtiest institutions, football, might be held to account.” He quoted Flávio de Leão Bastos Pereira, a professor of criminal law at Mackenzie University in Sao Paulo for the following, “This could stimulate the necessary changes in Brazilian football in terms of greater professionalism, ethics and transparency.”
Apparently endemic corruption reigned in the country that has won five World Cup championships for many years with multiple persons involved in the corruption. Unfortunately for some (at this point unknown) US company or companies, payments were made through a third party agent, “Jose Hawilla – the head of Brazilian based marketing company Traffic and one of the main paymasters behind the corruption at Fifa”. So much money went through Hawilla that in his guilty plea agreement he agreed to forfeit $151MM in his profits.
Interestingly, and probably for an entirely different set of reasons, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff announced that she welcomed the investigation. In another FT article, entitled “Fifa corruption scandal threatens to engulf Nike as sponsors raise pressure”, Joe Leahy and Mark Odell reported that the President wanted an outside agency to investigation corruption around the CBF because soccer was run by private organizations and the public prosecutors had been unable to crack it. She was quoted as saying “I say that if it needs to be investigated, investigate it – all the world cups, everything.” This is certainly a refreshing change from her attitude towards the investigation into corruption at Petrobras.
The point to all this is that corruption is a global scourge. I, and many others, believe it is a component of political instability and terrorism. But the FIFA scandal shows how corruption, which may appear to be victimless and not appear to hurt anyone, can, does and has destroyed the fabric if not the soul of some of the world’s greatest institutions. Even if you simply think it is much to-do about a game, we all should have some expectation that games will be played fairly with the best team on any given day. Unfortunately the FIFA scandal shows that ‘fixing’ has been there for a long time. The world’s most popular game deserves better. As Americans we should all want to fight the scourge of corruption wherever it might appear and we certainly believe that there should be a level playing field for all who want to compete.
So to my friend who started me on this four-part journey of why Americans should care about the FIFA scandal, I hope that I have persuaded you why you should care. For the rest of you, I hope you have enjoyed this series. One of the joys of blogging and podcasting is engaging with readers and listeners. So keep those questions coming and you too can help me engage in the fight against the global scourge of bribery and corruption.