Eighteen months after the scandal broke, the accused are still living it up, writes Martyn Ziegler
Trump Tower in New York is a gilded cage for 84-year-old José Maria Marin, the former head of the Brazilian football federation (CBF).
In the past two weeks, security surrounding the skyscraper has been massively beefed up after its most famous occupant won the keys to the White House. Like Donald Trump, Marin has his own personal security presence when, four times a week, he leaves his plush apartment for an afternoon stroll in mid-town Manhattan.
Marin often frequents a bookstore near Central Park or goes to church, where fellow worshippers are unaware that the distinguished elderly gentleman with the piercing gaze is wearing an electronic tag around his ankle, and the security guard’s orders are to prevent him absconding rather than to protect his personal safety.
Marin was one of the seven Fifa officials arrested in Zurich’s Baur au Lac hotel on May 27, 2015, the day that Fifa effectively imploded. He spent 160 days in Swiss custody before being extradited to the US, where he pleaded not guilty to corruption charges. He has been under house arrest ever since after agreeing to pay the $20,000 (about £16,200) weekly cost of surveillance.
The Fifa connection may be an uncomfortable one for Trump. Chuck Blazer, the whistleblower who brought the whole Fifa edifice crashing down, has been friends with Trump for the past 23 years — Blazer too had an apartment in Trump Tower when he ran the Concacaf confederation from the 58-story skyscraper.
Blazer, who has also pleaded guilty to a string of corruption and bribery charges, remains in hospital being treated for life-threatening cancer and kidney failure, but has told friends that he is delighted for Trump, who “will be a great president”.
Jack Warner, Blazer’s old boss and the former Fifa vice-president who has employed Myra Hindley’s former QC to help to fight his extradition from Trinidad to the US, sent Trump a congratulatory email on the morning of his election victory.
“The Concacaf office I headed was on the 17th floor of the Trump Towers from 1990 to 2010 and my own apartment was on the 52nd floor,” he said to local media last week. “My apartment was opposite his [Trump’s] and we were accustomed to greeting each other,” added Warner, who has denied numerous corruption charges.
Staff in the US justice department are said to be keeping a wary eye on how much importance Trump’s new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, will attach to the Fifa investigation, given that it was a defining moment in the career of Loretta Lynch, Barack Obama’s appointment.
So far, of the 42 football officials either on bail, in hiding or fighting extradition after indictments issued by the US, 21 have pleaded guilty to corruption offences mostly connected to bribes for TV rights, though none so far have been sentenced. There are also investigations in Europe that could yet leave some famous faces in football administration facing criminal charges.
Recently, the investigation team lead by Michael Lauber, the Swiss attorney general, held a brainstorming session in which it was decided to prioritise three cases, with the aim of deciding on charges by the spring.
The cases are those involving Sepp Blatter, the former Fifa president, Jérôme Valcke, his former secretary-general, and Franz Beckenbauer, Germany’s most famous former player who has faced bribery allegations surrounding his country’s hosting of the 2006 World Cup.
Blatter, who denies any wrongdoing and is contesting his six-year ban from football, is now 80 and seems reluctant to give up his old ways. He still occupies the Zurich apartment that he lived in during his time as president, but now pays rent to Fifa, and is still driven around in the same limousine.
Although he splits his time between his mountain home in Visp, he is a regular at his old Zurich haunts, notably the Fifa Club at the Sonnenberg restaurant, overlooking Lake Zurich. The new regime, keen to distance itself from the old, has tried to sever any links with the club and, to Blatter’s annoyance, has even reclaimed the World Cup replica that had pride of place there.
Swiss investigators are also biding their time to interview Beckenbauer, who remains on recovery leave in Austria after a heart operation in early September. ‘Der Kaiser’ is being investigated on suspicion of fraud, money laundering and misappropriation of funds in the run-up to the 2006 tournament. He also denies wrongdoing, as does Valcke, banned for 12 years by Fifa’s ethics committee for destroying evidence as well as other offences.
Valcke has kept out of the public eye. There are suggestions the Frenchman is based in Sardinia but spends time in South Africa — he has dual nationality through his wife — but he also has homes in Zurich, a ski chalet and a £2.4 million yacht that was last sighted in Corsica. Valcke was also at the heart of the 2010 South Africa World Cup bribery scandal — last year, a letter emerged apparently showing that he authorised the diversion of $10 million (about £8.1 million) from World Cup money via a Fifa account to one controlled by Warner. Blazer has testified that the money was payment for him and Warner to vote for South Africa ahead of rivals Morocco. Warner denies the allegations.
The new Fifa leadership is pursuing the restitution of the $10 million and this week sent a delegation of officials to South Africa as part of its quest to regain the money. Attempts to speak to Danny Jordaan, the former head of the 2010 World Cup bid who signed off the payment and is now president of the South African FA, proved fruitless.
The US indictment, which does not name Jordaan, refers to the $10 million and a suitcase of cash being delivered to Warner as bribes for votes for the South Africa World Cup. Jordaan has not left South Africa to attend any Fifa events in the past 18 months and has hired a New York-based attorney.
The one recurring factor in all these investigations is, of course, money: the sums involved are stupendous. Investigators believe that nearly every one of the 42 officials indicted is a millionaire, and most of them are multi-millionaires.
Even Rafael Esquivel, the Venezuelan who was vice-president of the South American confederation and a relatively small fish in the pond, has this month agreed to forfeit more than $16 million. José Hawilla, the Brazilian owner of Traffic, the marketing company who paid most of the alleged bribes, has agreed to forfeit $151 million.
The apartment where Marin lives in Trump Tower is valued at $8 million and he has just put his $13 million 12-bedroom, ten-bathroom apartment in Rio de Janeiro up for rent.
Jeffrey Webb, the former Cayman Islands banker who succeeded Warner as Fifa vice-president, should have been sentenced yesterday after pleading guilty to racketeering conspiracy, fraud and money laundering but has succeeded in having his sentence delayed by six months.
Webb has forfeited $6.7 million but has still managed to maintain his luxurious lifestyle while under house arrest in his mansion in Loganville, Georgia. Pictures posted on Facebook earlier this year showed Webb in a white tuxedo enjoying a lavish 40th birthday party for his wife, Kendra, complete with his own in-house casino.
Investigators accept that not all the money will be recoverable. Julio Grondona, the Argentinian who was Fifa’s finance chairman for most of Blatter’s time in charge, is believed to have salted away multi-millions into numerous banks — at least three different Swiss banks and one in Liechtenstein — but took many secrets to the grave when he died in 2014. He is referred to, but unnamed, as “co-conspirator 10” in the US indictment.
João Havelange, the godfather of Fifa corruption, died before he could be brought to book. He passed away aged 100 in August, five years after Swiss court documents showed that he and his former son-in-law, Ricardo Teixeira, received around $42 million in bribes from Fifa’s marketing company during the 1990s.
Teixeira remains a fugitive from US justice after being indicted and is living in Rio — Brazil does not have an extradition agreement with the US. Even his home front may become uncomfortable soon, if he is dragged into the corruption scandal around the building of stadiums for Brazil’s 2014 World Cup, which has led to the arrest of Sérgio Cabral, the former governor of Rio.
Brazilian police have found an email, sent in 2010 from the main constructor alleged to have paid bribes to officials, saying, “Fifa/RT: I think that, from now on, he is our main contact/helper on this theme.” The identity of RT has not been established but people close to investigations suspect that it could be Teixeira, who at the time was a Fifa ExCo member, president of the CBF and head of the local organising committee for the World Cup.
Even if all the cases are wrapped up by the end of next year, that will not be the end of the Fifa story. Once the probes into Blatter, Valcke and Beckenbauer are concluded, the Swiss will turn their attention to the bidding processes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and the outcome of that investigation — and the eventual publication of the García report into World Cup bidding — could still be three years away.
Where are the worst suspects?
Despite a litany of money-laundering and bribery charges, sport’s biggest corruption scandal has not resulted in any big names being put behind bars.
Jérôme Valcke, age 56
Has faded from public view after being banned for 12 years by Fifa. He too is under investigation by Swiss prosecutors and is believed to split his time between homes in Zurich, Sardinia and South Africa.
José Maria Marin, age 84
The former head of the Brazilian FA is under house arrest in New York’s Trump Tower after being extradited from Switzerland and is awaiting trial on corruption charges, which he denies.
Nicolás Leoz, age 88
The man who demanded of England’s World Cup bid that the FA Cup be renamed after him is still fighting extradition from Paraguay, where he remains under house arrest. He was named as taking millions in bribes both in the US indictment and Swiss court documents.
Jeffrey Webb, age 52
The Cayman Islands banker once touted himself as Blatter’s successor, but is now on bail in his Georgia mansion awaiting sentencing for conspiracy and fraud. Banned for life by Fifa.
Jack Warner, age 73
The former Fifa vice-president is fighting extradition from Trinidad to the US. He has hired a team of expensive attorneys, including a London barrister. Banned for life by Fifa.
Ricardo Teixeira, age 69
Brazil’s former World Cup chief and Fifa member has led a charmed life — it is five years since he was named by a Swiss court for taking tens of millions of dollars in bribes. Indicted by the US, he is now a fugitive in Brazil.
Chuck Blazer, age 71
The American blew the whistle on Fifa and football corruption and pleaded guilty to several charges. He remains in a private hospital undergoing rehabilitation from bowel cancer and is on dialysis. Banned for life by Fifa.
Franz Beckenbauer, age 71
Is on recovery leave in his home in Austria after a heart operation in early September. Faces questioning by the Swiss attorney general once fully recovered.
Sepp Blatter, age 80
The former Fifa president is appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against his six-year ban and is still under investigation by Swiss prosecutors. He splits his time between Zurich and his family home in Visp, Switzerland.
Danny Jordaan, age 65
Has not left South Africa since the first wave of Fifa arrests in May 2015 — he is still president of the South African FA. He served as the ANC’s mayor for Nelson Mandela Bay until he was toppled by the Democratic Alliance.