It’s said that practice makes perfect, but a federal indictment handed down yesterday makes it clear that FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, is the exception to the rule. FIFA executives had a lot of practice laundering money obtained from bribes and general graft, but they never got particularly good at it.
The 47-count indictment paints a picture of an organization so cartoonishly corrupt, and so inept at disguising it, that the biggest mystery about the scandal is why it took prosecutors so long to pluck such ripe and low-hanging fruit.
The 162-page charging document released by acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Kelly T. Currie contains a wealth of nuggets pointing to the depth of the corruption in FIFA, but none sums it up as well as a quote prosecutors attribute to Jack Warner, a former FIFA vice president and a top soccer official from Trinidad and Tobago: “There are some people here who thing they are more pious than thou. If you’re pious, open a church, friends. Our business is our business.”
Because context matters, it should be pointed out that when Warner made those remarks, he was in a hotel conference room, preparing to distribute envelopes stuffed with $40,000 each in U.S. currency to representatives of various international soccer associations in an effort to swing an internal FIFA election.
The indictment makes it clear that subtlety was never Warner’s strong suit. At one point, according to the indictment, he had an underling fly to Paris to pick up a suitcase packed with cash bundled in stacks of $10,000 in U.S. bills, allegedly paid by a representative of South Africa’s soccer association, which eventually won hosting rights to the 2010 World Cup. He then had the same person carry the briefcase on an international flight back to Trinidad and Tobago.
Warner was so blasé about moving dirty money around that at one point, he started directing large cash payments to be transferred directly to his “personal checking account,” which is generally a no-no when you are trying to disguise your illegal profits.
At times, Warner was so flagrant that banks flat-out declined to process his transactions.
Warner was by no means the only one among those indicted who didn’t seem to take the risk of being discovered terribly seriously. Another excellent example is the case of Hugo Jinkis and his son, Mariano Jinkis, Argentinians who controlled one of the sports arketing companies implicated in the bribery schemes alleged by the U.S.
In fiction as well as reality, criminals that create front companies at least make an effort to suggest that they are legitimate businessmen. Vito Corleone had an olive oil importing business; Bugsy Siegel ran a hotel. But according to federal prosecutors, the Jinkises set up a company in Panama, the Bayan Group, “specifically to pay bribes.”
To be fair, some of the officials named in the indictment seem to have at least a sense that they ought to be a little more careful. Aaron Davidson, for example, a U.S. citizen who ran another sports marketing firm implicated in the scandal, had to remind the younger Jinkis not to talk about their criminal activities on the phone.
Unfortunately, Davidson was also in the habit of discussing just how illegal their operation was with his colleagues, one of whom was apparently wearing a wire.
The indictment is a smorgasbord of corruption, with payments sent to builders to construct a pool for one FIFA official, and used to buy expensive artwork for another. Payments are virtually always in nice round numbers, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands and millions, with no pretense about invoices being costed-out to give even the appearance of payment for services rendered.
The one charge in the indictment that doesn’t appear to be directly related to corruption within FIFA is also the strangest. It involves Uruguayan soccer official Eugenio Figueredo, who in addition to various corruption counts, is charged with fraudulently obtaining U.S. citizenship.
Apparently concerned about passing the citizenship examination, be claimed to be exempt, falsely asserting that he suffers from “severe dementia.”
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