Alleged racketeering by high-ranking FIFA officials, detailed Wednesday in a 150-page-plus federal indictment, dates back more than 20 years.
At the time the alleged crimes began, Loretta E. Lynch was a young prosecutor working on a barrage of political corruption cases for the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York. Now, as U.S. attorney general, Lynch is overseeing a bombshell case against one of the world's most powerful sports organizations.
Lynch’s role in the FIFA case began years ago
The core case against 14 FIFA officials was built while Lynch served as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York between 2010 and 2015.
The indictment unsealed Wednesday revealed that Charles Blazer, a former member of the FIFA Executive Committee, had pleaded guilty in 2013 to a host of charges that ranged from wire fraud to money laundering.
Blazer, a New York City native, forfeited $1.9 million at the time of his plea and began to cooperate with prosecutors in Lynch’s office, as well as secretly taping conversations with FIFA officials. Those recordings were at the heart of her office's three-year investigation into the organization.
For Lynch, the unsealing of the indictment against the officials was a culmination of sorts after years of working alongside the FBI gathering information.
Lynch has spoken in no uncertain terms about the allegations against FIFA
When she announced the charges on Wednesday, Lynch said the corruption was “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States.”
“These individuals and organizations engaged in bribery to decide who would televise games, where the games would be held and who would run the organization overseeing organized soccer worldwide," Lynch said.
In addition, she said, "FIFA has a lot of soul-searching to do."
What Lynch had been known for until now
After lengthy congressional proceedings that lasted nearly five months following her nomination to replace then-Atty. Gen. Eric Holder, Lynch was confirmed as attorney general last month, and became the first African American woman to hold the position.
To get to that post, she rose through the ranks to become the leader of the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District of New York, where she oversaw dozens of corruption cases that included politicians and organized crime leaders.
Lynch's most high-profile corruption case prior to this week's FIFA case was the prosecution of former U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) for tax evasion involving a fast-food business he once co-owned. The charges, which Grimm pleaded guilty to in 2014, led to his resignation from Congress.
How Lynch is being received for the FIFA charges
Soccer is widely popular on the international stage, but the global organization that runs it isn't always, and some have called Lynch a hero for taking on FIFA, which has been long-plagued by scandals and graft allegations.
Tunk Varadarajan, an editor for Politico Europe, wrote that "the pantheon of world soccer has a new hero" in Lynch.
She is “destined to go down as the most consequential woman in the history of the game,” he wrote.
“She has burst into the Augean stables of FIFA with a team of industrial cleaners, determined to rid the governing body of international soccer of its legendary filth.”
Some -- particularly leaders of countries named -- have assailed the charges brought forward by Lynch as meddling by U.S. officials. Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday it was “another vivid attempt” by the U.S. to spread “jurisdiction on other states.”
Lynch, citing the power of the Justice Department to prosecute foreign crimes if the money used to commit them passes through U.S. banks, has said her department has jurisdiction to file the charges.
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