FBI extends FIFA scrutiny to World Cup host bids of Russia, Qatar

FBI extends FIFA scrutiny to World Cup host bids of Russia, Qatar

The FBI's investigation of bribery and corruption at FIFA includes scrutiny of how football's governing body awarded World Cup hosting rights to Russia and Qatar, a US law enforcement official said.

Russia and Qatar have denied wrongdoing in the conduct of their bids for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, which were not the subject of charges announced by US prosecutors a week ago against FIFA officials that stunned world football.

The US law enforcement official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the review of the bids would be part of a probe that goes beyond the indictments. Among issues the FBI is examining is the stewardship of FIFA by longtime president Sepp Blatter, who unexpectedly announced on Tuesday he was resigning shortly before it emerged that he too was under investigation by US law enforcement.

Authorities said last week that they were investigating a case of US$150 million (S$202 million) paid in bribes over two decades while Swiss prosecutors announced their own criminal inquiry into the 2018 and 2022 bids.

On Wednesday, the partially blacked out transcript of the November 2013 guilty plea of Chuck Blazer, a US citizen and FIFA executive committee member from 1997 to 2013, showed that Blazer and others in FIFA agreed to accept bribes in bidding for the 1998 and 2010 World Cups and other tournaments. "Among other things, I agreed with other persons in or around 1992 to facilitate the acceptance of a bribe in conjunction with the selection of the host nation for the 1998 World Cup," Blazer told a federal judge in New York, according to the transcript.

The tournament was hosted by France but separate court documents contain the prosecutors' allegation that bidding nation Morocco paid a bribe to another FIFA executive, Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago, and that Blazer acted as the intermediary. Warner has denied this and other charges against him.

Blazer went on to say in his plea hearing that from 2004 and through 2011 "I and others on the FIFA executive committee agreed to accept bribes in conjunction with the selection of South Africa as the host nation for the 2010 World Cup." Blazer's lawyer declined to comment on Wednesday.

Many of the details were previously revealed in charging documents released by prosecutors when they announced indictments for 14 people, including nine FIFA officials.

Football power Brazil hosted the World Cup in 2014 but in the case of Qatar, there was some surprise that the tournament was awarded to a small desert country with no real football tradition and where daytime summer temperatures can top 40 degrees Celsius (104F).

Qatar's Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah said there was no way Qatar would be stripped of its right to host the World Cup because it had the best bid. "It is very difficult for some to digest that an Arab Islamic country has this tournament, as if this right can't be for an Arab state," he told Reuters in an interview in Paris. "I believe it is because of prejudice and racism that we have this bashing campaign against Qatar." For its part, Russia dismissed concerns it might lose the right to host the cup. "Cooperation with FIFA is going on and, most importantly, Russia is continuing preparations for the 2018 World Cup," President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said.

US authorities said last week that their announcement was the beginning and not the end of the investigation. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the Department of Justice looked forward to continuing to work with other countries.

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