Chuck Blazer, the former FIFA executive committee member, told a U.S. federal judge that he and others on the governing body’s ruling panel agreed to receive bribes in the votes for the hosts of the 1998 and 2010 World Cups.
The brief hearing, captured in a 40-page transcript unsealed for the first time Wednesday, helped unravel the corruption scandal that now has engulfed FIFA, the international body of world soccer, and led to the indictment of 14 other officials and businessmen. The guilty pleas of four others, including Blazer, were made public as well.
Prosecutors unsealed a 40-page transcript Wednesday of the hearing in U.S. District Court on Nov. 25, 2013, when Blazer pleaded guilty to racketeering and other charges.
Four sections of the transcript were redacted by prosecutors, presumably to protect avenues of their investigation.
Blazer, in admitting 10 counts of illegal conduct, told the court of his actions surrounding the vote that made South Africa the first nation on that continent to host soccer’s premier event.
“Beginning in or around 2004 and continuing 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 told U.S. District Judge Raymond J. Dearie.
Blazer was the No. 2 official of soccer’s North and Central American and Caribbean region from 1990-2011 and served on FIFA’s executive committee from 1997-2013. South Africa defeated Morocco 14-10 in the host vote.
South African Football Association president Molefi Oliphant sent a letter to FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke in 2008 asking FIFA to withhold $10 million from the budget of the 2010 World Cup organizers and to use the money to finance a “Diaspora Legacy Programme” under the control of then CONCACAF President Jack Warner. South Africa Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula denies the money was a bribe and says it was an “aboveboard payment” to help soccer development in Caribbean region.
Blazer also said he was involved in bribes around 1992 in the vote for the 1998 World Cup host, won by France over Morocco 12-7.
Warner was among 14 soccer officials and businessmen named in an indictment announced last week, and those charges said a Moroccan bid representative offered a $1 million bid payment. Blazer, whose guilty plea was made public last week, said he agreed with others “to facilitate the acceptance of a bribe.”
He also admitted to corruption involving the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the region’s top national team tournament which he helped launch in 1991.
“Beginning in or about 1993 and continuing through the early 2000s, I and others agreed to accept bribes and kickbacks in conjunction with the broadcast and other rights to the 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2003 Gold Cups,” Blazer said.
While many of the allegations were made public last week, the transcript of the closed-court hearing in Brooklyn more than 1 1/2 years ago put them in the first-person voice of Blazer, once the most powerful soccer official in the United States. Blazer’s allegations have assisted an investigation by U.S. prosecutors, who foresee additional people being charged.
Lawyers on both sides agreed at the time to keep the proceedings from public view to protect the ongoing investigation.
Dearie said prosecutors “identify FIFA and its attendant or related constituent organization as what we call an enterprise, a RICO, enterprise.”
“RICO is an acronym for, and don’t overreact to this as I am sure most people do, Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organization,” the judge said.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who has run the governing body since 1998, said Tuesday he will be resigning, an announcement made six days after the indictments were unsealed and four days after he was elected to a fifth term. A new president will be chosen by FIFA’s 209 member nations and territories, likely between December and March.
Now 70, Blazer was in a wheelchair at the hearing, according to Dearie. Blazer told the court he had received chemotherapy and radiation for rectal cancer, and he also suffered from diabetes and coronary artery disease.
Blazer forfeited over $1.9 million at the time of his pleas to racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, income tax evasion and failure to file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts. He agreed to pay a second amount to be determined at the time of sentencing.