SPORT: How the Fifa scandal was unearthed

31 May, 2015 - 00:05 0 Views
SPORT: How the Fifa scandal was unearthed

The Sunday Mail

FIFAIN the course of allegedly spending $29 million on a Fifa credit card, splurging on luxury homes, private jets and fine dinners, Chuck Blazer is said to have grown so obese that he lost the ability to walk.

The former Fifa official came to rely on what one journalist called a “fleet of mobility scooters to move from feast to feast”.

He was trundling along a Manhattan pavement on one such scooter in 2011 — on his way to a restaurant — when the FBI caught up with him.

They let him know that they knew he had been dodging taxes for decades.

“We can take you away in handcuffs now — or you can co-operate,” an agent is said to have told him.

Blazer, credited with making football a mainstream US sport, decided to co-operate.

One of the biggest corruption scandals ever seen in world sport was soon to be revealed.

A year later in the May Fair hotel in London, Blazer would place his keys on a table while he sat opposite various Fifa officials.

Unbeknown to them, his key ring was fitted with a tiny microphone.

The ploy appears to have supplied US investigators with a glimpse of football’s grubby underbelly — a world of kickbacks and endemic corruption.

Blazer’s involvement with football began in 1976.

He had never played the game, but when his son fell under its spell he became a youth coach in New York.

For a while, he was an archetypal suburban “soccer dad”.

However, his fascination with revenues appears always to have eclipsed his interest in on-field tactics.

A gifted salesman, by the mid-1980s he was rising through Fifa’s ranks.

Under his stewardship, a sport once viewed in the US as an exotic oddity infiltrated America’s parks and sports bars.

Blazer helped to broker more than a billion dollars of US media rights.

It was no labour of love: between 1990 and 1998, he is said to have made $21.6 million from his role at Concacaf, Fifa’s governing body in North America and the Caribbean, from an extraordinary deal that gave him 10 per cent of nearly every dollar earned by the organisation.

From 1996 to 2011 he is said to have pocketed another $15 million in commissions.

Then came the perks: he ate at the finest restaurants, flew on private jets and lived on private islands.

In seven years, he is said to have spent $29 million on a Fifa American Express card. He rubbed shoulders with Vladimir Putin, Hillary Clinton, Pope John Paul II and Nelson Mandela, and kept homes in Miami and the Bahamas.

As he grew fatter and cultivated an extravagant beard, he came to resemble Santa Claus. His homes also included two apartments in the Trump Tower, with sweeping views of Central Park in New York — one of them for his cats.

That lifestyle has now come to an abrupt end: Blazer is 70 and is believed to have colon cancer. The US Department of Justice says that he has pleaded guilty 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 has forfeited nearly $2 million and will pay more when he is sentenced.

The charges against him appear to illuminate the skill set it took to ascend football’s governing forces.

As one American pundit put it: “Perhaps it took a man like Chuck Blazer to help yank US soccer out of its dark ages. Maybe only someone as canny, ambitious, and ruthlessly self-serving as he could successfully navigate the ugly side of the beautiful game.”

Blazer’s football career began in earnest in the mid-1980s, when he was elected vice-president of the United States Soccer Federation, the Fifa body that governs the US.

His friendship with Jack Warner, a Trinidadian politician, sped his rise. Mr Warner led Concacaf for more than two decades before he stepped down in 2011, amid his own corruption scandal.At around the same time, Blazer turned FBI informant.

According to the New York Daily News, he complained to his FBI handlers that his involvement with their investigation was damaging his business. Their reply to him was blunt: “This is your business now.”

A year later, Blazer is believed to have been the linchpin of a sting operation in London, at the May Fair Hotel. According to the New York Daily News, he prepared the ground by emailing the men in charge of the 2018 and 2022 bids, won by Russia and Qatar.When they met, Blazer threw his keys down on the table between them.

Could the scandal unlocked during those exchanges change the face of football? – The Times

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