NEW YORK (Reuters) - The FBI’s investigation of soccer governing body FIFA includes scrutiny of how the organization awarded the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 competition to Qatar, a U.S. law enforcement official said on Wednesday.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the review of those awards would be part of a probe that is looking beyond the allegations in an indictment of FIFA officials announced in the United States a week ago.
Swiss prosecutors said at that time that they were investigating the 2018 and 2022 bids. The decision on Qatar, a tiny desert country with no domestic tradition of soccer, was heavily criticized by soccer officials in Western countries.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch told a press conference when she announced the charges against FIFA officials and soccer marketing and media company employees that the investigation, led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Internal Revenue Service, was not finished.
Lynch said the U.S. Department of Justice did not want to impede the 2018 and 2022 World Cups but looked forward to working with Swiss authorities investigating the award of the tournaments.
The main prosecutor in the case, Kelly Currie, said the indictments were “the beginning of our effort, not the end.”
Among issues the FBI also is examining is the stewardship of FIFA, the Fédération Internationale de Football
Association, by its longtime president Sepp Blatter, who on Tuesday unexpectedly announced his plan to resign.
The Swiss attorney general’s office said on Tuesday that it was not investigating Blatter, but a source familiar with the probe said his conduct could come under scrutiny at some point.
The FBI has been looking at the Qatar bid at least since September 2011. According to documents seen by Reuters, investigators interviewed a former Qatar bid employee who said she was present when the Qatar bid organization paid $1.5 million to three African members of FIFA’s executive committee to secure their votes for Qatar.
Later, the former employee, Phaedra Almajid, made a sworn statement recanting her allegations, but later still she told the FBI that representatives of the Qatar bid had pressured her to do so. Almajid declined to comment on the indictments.
The U.S. law enforcement official said on Wednesday that from the outset the FBI probe was conducted by a New York based squad of agents who specialized in Eurasian organized crime.
A second official said the squad specializes in Russian organized crime and around the time the FIFA investigation opened in December 2010 the squad was looking into an elaborate money laundering and illegal gambling operation involving a Russian based in New York.
The IRS did not get involved in the investigation until about a year after the FBI opened its case, one of the officials said. The case was built on tax evasion charges and other charges against Charles Blazer, a U.S. citizen and former FIFA executive committee member, who pleaded guilty in November 2013.
FIFA did hire a former U.S. prosecutor, Michael Garcia, to investigate the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding process. His report was never published but a review of it by a German judge found that Garcia had come up with insufficient evidence for FIFA to reopen the bids.
A former FIFA ethics adviser said that if FIFA were forced to redo the 2018 and 2022 bids, contractually it could be bound to pay amounts of compensation to Russia and Qatar that could damage the organization’s finances.
Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Grant McCool