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Chuck Blazer and corrupt FIFA's robber barons

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Andrew Jennings delves further into FIFA, showing that far from being a non-profit organisation, it is actually a corrupt business run by robber barons.

Chuck’s world of Offshore Bank Accounts

"It is laughable that FIFA enjoys a status as a not for profit sporting organization.  It is actually a sinister business organization operated by robber barons with no regard for ethics or integrity; power is all that matters."

~ US lawyer, Barry Blum

The FBI is examining documentary evidence revealing confidential football payments to offshore accounts operated by controversial American FIFA official Chuck Blazer, the ‘whistleblower’ who sparked an investigation into allegations of bribery in the FIFA presidential election two months ago.

In May FIFA was shaken by allegations by Blazer that his long-term ally Jack Warner was involved in a plot to hand out $1 million in cash to Caribbean officials to vote for Qatar’s Mohamed bin Hammam who was running against president Sepp Blatter.

[READ INDEPENDENT AUSTRALIA'S SATIRICAL TAKE ON THE QATAR'S 2022 FIFA WINNING BID.]

Warner, from Trinidad, became president of FIFA’s regional confederation Concacaf – the 35 countries in North, Central America and the Caribbean – in 1990 and immediately appointed Blazer as his general secretary. In 1996, Warner fixed Blazer’s elevation to join him on FIFA’s 24-man executive committee.

Cash in a brown envelope

The relationship broke asunder when Blazer,from New York, revealed that Bin Hammam, had arrived in Trinidad on May 11 in a private jet carrying at least $1 million in cash to pitch his election manifesto to regional football officials at a meeting arranged by Warner. A photograph of cash in a brown envelope was handed to ex-FBI boss Louis Freeh who has been commissioned by FIFA to investigate. FIFA have refused to reveal Freeh’s mandate. Warner resigned abruptly from FIFA, who declared him ‘innocent’ and Bin Hammam is appealing a life suspension. Blatter was re-elected unopposed.

Now the spotlight has turned to payments to Blazer accounts in the Cayman Island and Bahamas. Blazer is contracted to work for Concacaf but several payments have come from the Caribbean Football Union, a separate part of the regional confederation, tightly controlled by Warner for two decades. Blazer denies any impropriety, explaining, ‘I have and will continue to fully respond to those to whom I am responsible; namely FIFA, Concacaf and their respective stakeholders.

‘Prepared to repay the money’

The most recent payment of $250,000 was in March this year — before the split. Blazer deposited the cheque in a Bahamas account and initially claimed it was ‘repayment of a personal loan’. However Blazer now claims that Warner may have misused the CFU account and says he is prepared to repay the money.

In September last year Warner approved another CFU payment of $205,000 to a private company operated by Blazer from Cayman. It is also alleged that another payment of $57,750 went from the CFU to Blazer’s Cayman account.

Blazer declined to answer eight specific questions asking if his offshore transactions, bank accounts and transactions had been reported to the American tax authorities, the IRS.

Blazer stated:

‘All of my transactions have been legally and properly done in compliance with the various laws of the applicable jurisdictions based on the nature of the transaction.’ He added, ‘These were not income items nor subject to tax.’

During the acrimonious power struggle it is claimed that football officials sympathetic to Blazer were entertained last month at an apartment at the luxury Reef Atlantis Paradise Island resort, Nassau, valued at nearly $3 million. Blazer is said to own the apartment through a Bahamas company, in turn owned by two other companies registered at a Nassau bank where he has an account. Blazer declined to comment.

Another of Blazer’s offshore assets, garaged in Switzerland, is an antique Mercedes 300 "Adenauer" Saloon valued at around £80,000 that he had renovated over a two-year period. Blazer declines to explain why the car is registered in Zurich as belonging to FIFA.

'The level of granularity’

Blazer, 65, has been well-rewarded since joining Warner’s team in 1990. His confidential contract reveals that he hires himself out from his Cayman-based company Sportvertising. It also reveals that he pockets 10% in ‘commissions’ from regional football marketing deals. Last year he picked up nearly $2 million and over the last five years has taken $9.6 million. The sums are recorded in Concacaf accounts – which are not made public – under the heading of ‘Commissions’ — but with no indication he received them.

Blazer defends the omission as ‘consistent with the level of granularity of other items in the financial reports’ and that these payments are ‘consistent with industry standards’ but has declined to quote examples. His remuneration from Concacaf has never been disclosed. Blazer is paid through his company Sportvertising, domiciled in Cayman.

Chuck’s world of offshore bank accounts

Blazer confirms that he employs his son Jason, 41, as Concacaf’s $7,000 a month medical officer, but adds:

‘Your question about my son is completely inappropriate. I am a public person and recognize that harassment from people like yourself with agendas to sell books and papers and who have little regard for the truth, comes with the territory.’

Blazer’s daughter Marci has, in the past, been a member of FIFA’s legal committee.

Blazer has also previously staunchly defended Warner against documented allegations of industrial-scale World Cup tickets rackets as having ‘very little credibility’ and sounding ‘worse than it was’.

Blazer enjoys an elevated lifestyle with an apartment in Trump Tower, New York, above the Concacaf office, he is renovating a farmhouse in North Carolina and is said to own a waterfront apartment in Miami. He fills up his blog with pictures of himself in the company of the likes of Nelson Mandela, Hilary Clinton and New York sex therapist Dr Ruth Westheimer — and frequently eating at the world’s finest restaurants.

Chuck Blazer patronises Prince William

Testimony ‘fabricated’

During a FIFA marketing dispute in a Manhattan court five years ago the judge ruled that Blazer's testimony was ‘…generally without credibility based on his attitude and demeanour and on his evasive answers on cross-examination’. The judge added that some of his testimony was ‘fabricated’.

Nonetheless, Blazer, Chairman of FIFA’s Media Committee, enjoys favourable reporting in the American media. He has been lauded as the ‘whistleblower’ who ejected Warner from FIFA. When Warner resigned, he was automatically replaced by Concacaf vice-president Lisle Austin from Barbados — who immediately fired Blazer. In turn, Blazer barred Austin from the Concacaf office in Trump Tower. Austin then won a judgement in court in the Bahamas where Concacaf is registered, confirming him as president. But FIFA stepped in and suspended Austin for breaking FIFA’s rule that members of their football family must never use the civil courts to settle disputes.

Last Tuesday, Austin was suspended from all football activities for a year by FIFA’s Disciplinary Committee in Zurich, chaired by Blatter’s close associate, Swiss lawyer Marcel Matheir.

Zurich ‘show trial’

Austin said last week:

‘I have repeatedly asked for an independent forensic audit of Concacaf’s finances, but to no avail. My struggle is to bring transparency and democracy to regional football and indeed FIFA.’

Austin’s lawyer Barry Blum said after the hearing:

‘The FIFA proceeding was a show trial reminiscent of the former Soviet Union and the worst fascist regimes. FIFA is taking the position that it is above the law and that a person's fundamental rights to due process and natural justice are inferior to FIFA's interests of sweeping any criticism under the rug.  FIFA really has to take that position because its conduct would never survive scrutiny by any competent court of law. There is simply too much corruption and cronyism. It is laughable that FIFA enjoys a status as a not for profit sporting organization.  It is actually a sinister business organization operated by robber barons with no regard for ethics or integrity; power is all that matters.’

FIFA has been in meltdown since last autumn, when a sting by the Sunday Times resulted in two of FIFA’s 24-man executive committee, Amos Adamu from Nigeria and Reynald Temarii from Tahiti, being handed lengthy suspensions for appearing to sell their votes in the contest to award the World Cup in 2018 and 2014.

That was followed by a BBC Panorama programme on the eve of the vote alleging that $100 million in bribes had been paid by ISL, a now bankrupt Swiss sports marketing company, to a handful of FIFA officials in return for exclusive World Cup contracts worth billions. FIFA refuses to investigate the documented allegations, but the IOC is investigating a payment to one of its members, Cameroun’s Issa Hayatou president of African football. Last week Blatter greeted Hayatou in Zurich to celebrate his 65th birthday.

$10 million laundered

Also under investigation by the IOC is its doyen – former FIFA president João Havelange – for receiving a $1 million dollar bribe alleged to have been handled by Blatter. Havelange’s former son-in-law, Ricardo Teixeira, boss of Brazilian football, is also accused of receiving nearly $10 million laundered through a Lichtenstein front company. Paraguay’s Nicolas Leoz, also a member of FIFA’s ruling executive committee was alleged to have received a total of $730,000 in kickbacks.

Another alleged beneficiary of payments from ISL in cash is Lamine Diack from Senegal, president of world track and field and currently being courted to award his 2017 world championships to London.

Ricardo Teixeira has not responded to questions about the payments but under increasing pressure from politicians in Brasilia, recently denounced the British media as ‘corrupt’. Teixeira, Havelange and FIFA – effectively Blatter – are battling in the Swiss courts to suppress the report of a criminal investigation by police into the FIFA bribes.

‘We never saw the bundles of cash’

The fallout from Blazer’s allegations against Warner continue. Several Caribbean officials who may have taken money from Mohamed Bin Hammam’s $1 million stash are also under investigation as are three more members of FIFA’s executive committee. For reasons not yet explained Worawi Makudi from Thailand, Hany Abo Rida from Egypt and Manilal Fernando from Sri Lanka were also travelling with the Qatari. They deny that they ever saw the bundles of cash bribes.

The divisions in FIFA deepened last week when Spain’s executive committee member Angel Villa Llona announced his support for Warner and Bin Hammam, saying 'They will always have a friend in me, whoever that annoys, even more so now that they are suffering.’

A rudderless drifting hulk

After Blatter’s farcical re-election on June 1 – opposed by the English and Scottish FAs – and a monstering by the world’s media at a post-election press conference - he disappeared, re-emerging in Baku clasping the hand of Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev who guarantees a warm press, encouraged by the torture and imprisonment of critical reporters. Later Blatter turned up in Zimbabwe to an ecstatic greeting from Robert Mugabe. Earlier in the year Blatter visited Burma to congratulate its oligarchs on their handling of local football.

FIFA is now a rudderless drifting hulk with nobody prepared to hand Blatter the revolver on the silver salver. Blatter’s plan to install an advisory ‘Council of the Wise’ including Placido Domino and Henry Kissinger to help clean up FIFA appears to have evaporated.

(This story was originally published in The Independent on Sunday, 14 August 2011, under the title ‘FBI investigates secret payments to FIFA whistleblower’ and has been republished with the author’s permission. For more stories on FIFA, see Andrew Jenning's blog www.transparencyinsport.org)

 
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