Fresh arrest shows FIFA’s corruption turmoil far from over
More than a year since FIFA declared the end of its corruption turmoil, the optimism has proved misguided. The latest arrest, of a man one heartbeat from the presidency of world soccer, demonstrated that on Tuesday.
Fresh wrongdoing, still reaching into the heart of power in FIFA, undercuts Gianni Infantino’s pledge to set the governing body on a new path to probity after the misdemeanors of the Sepp Blatter era.
Here is a look at fresh offshoots from the corruption scandal that burst into the open when several soccer officials were arrested at a Zurich hotel:
ANGEL MARIA VILLAR
As FIFA’s senior vice president with 19 years’ experience on world soccer’s decision-making body, Angel Maria Villar is one rung down the ladder from Infantino.
Now Villar is fighting accusations of improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption, and falsifying documents as part of a probe into the finances of the Spanish federation he heads.
The 67-year-old Villar was arrested in Madrid on Tuesday along with his son, whose business ventures he is accused of helping to profit from matches arranged for 2010 World Cup winner Spain.
It is not the first time the former Spain international has been embroiled in wrongdoing in his post-playing career in football politics.
Misconduct in a dual role as leader of the 2018 Spain-Portugal bid and a FIFA voter led to him being reprimanded. He was fined for a lack of cooperation with the investigation into 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding, criticized for a “tone and manner” that was “deeply disturbing.”
Until April, Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah of Kuwait was one of the most powerful figures in sport despite lacking the commensurate public profile.
The long-time Olympic powerbroker and election “kingmaker” was forced out of his position of power in soccer in disgrace after being directly implicated in a bribery plot uncovered by American investigators. Despite denying wrongdoing, the sheikh quit the election to remain on the FIFA Council ahead of the May election.
The claims against Sheikh Ahmad emerged in the indictment of FIFA audit committee member Richard Lai in a New York court, the latest branch of the sprawling U.S. federal investigation of bribery and corruption in international soccer that was revealed in 2015.
Lai, an American citizen from Guam, pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy charges related to taking around $1 million in bribes, including at least $850,000 from Kuwaiti officials. The scheme was to buy influence and help recruit other Asian soccer officials prepared to take bribes.
As head of the 2018 World Cup, Vitaly Mutko is central to the success of FIFA’s showpiece event and enjoys privileged access to Infantino and Russian President Vladimir Putin. That is despite mounting evidence uncovered by World Anti-Doping Agency investigators of how he subverted sport through his role in the scheme to cover up doping.
As Russian deputy prime minister, Mutko was banned from re-election to the FIFA Council this year on grounds of political interference. But FIFA’s inertia on Mutko’s role in the Russian doping scandal continues to jar with Infantino’s assertion that he won’t tolerate any transgressions by people in positions of power in soccer.
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