The U.S. Justice Department’s decision to charge nine high-ranking FIFA officials with bribery and corruption may never have happened if not for the cooperation of Chuck Blazer, the former general secretary of CONCACAF, the FIFA federation that oversees soccer in North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
Confronted by the Internal Revenue Service about tax issues stemming from the $20.6 million he received from CONCACAF between 1996 and 2011, Blazer agreed to help investigators build a case against other FIFA officials by secretly taping their conversations. And those conversations were at the heart of the three-year FBI investigation.
Now 70 and reportedly suffering from cancer, Blazer has pleaded guilty to racketeering, wire fraud, income tax evasion and money laundering, according to the indictment.
Blazer helped elect Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago as president of CONCACAF in 1990. And together the two turned the confederation, once little more than a soccer backwater, into a major player in the world’s game. By 2010 CONCACAF, which had moved its headquarters from Guatemala to New York City, was making more than $25 million a year, according to the Justice Department, much of it through broadcast rights for tournaments such as the Gold Cup.
By 2008, World Soccer magazine ranked Blazer as the 14th most important man in global soccer. Not bad for a guy whose first contact with the sport was as the volunteer coach of his son's team in 1976.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter rewarded both men, naming Warner a FIFA vice president while putting Blazer on the group’s executive committee. But the partnership didn’t last. At about the same time the IRS confronted Blazer about unpaid taxes on millions of dollars in income, he turned on Warner, starting an investigation into charges that Warner was offered a bribe to support Mohamed bin Hammam’s failed bid to become FIFA president. That investigation led to Bin Hammam’s ouster from FIFA and in 2011, Warner resigned in disgrace.
Blazer also resigned and according to the New York Daily News he began cooperating with federal authorities that same year, setting up meetings with soccer officials at events such as the 2012 Olympic Games, then taping the conversations with a hidden microphone.
More than three years later, those tapes formed the foundation of the 47-count indictment the Justice Department unveiled Wednesday.