Three executive members of the Football Federation of Belize (FFB)—Ruperto Vicente, president; Michael Blease, secretary general; and Sergio Chuc, senior vice president—are presently in Zurich, Switzerland, for the 65th FIFA Congress where International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) president, Sepp Blatter, 79, will once again seek re-election as the head of the governing body in football.
FIFA, the international football body to which the FFB belongs, proverbially, had the wind taken out of its sails early yesterday morning when US prosecutors indicted 14 FIFA officials on charges of racketeering, bribery, wire fraud and money laundering – 7 of whom were hauled out of their luxury hotel rooms and arrested by Swiss authorities.
Following their detention, the US Department of Justice issued a lengthy statement which accused FIFA executives of enriching themselves for the past 24 years through the corruption of international soccer by accepting bribes and kickbacks estimated at more than US$150M, beginning in 1991.
When the local media sought a comment from Vicente, after the news broke yesterday, he explained that he was not in a position to speak about the matter at the time because he was not aware of the circumstances behind the arrests.
Amandala got a similar response from former FFB president (1998-2012), Bertie Chimilio, who told us that he had heard about the situation but was not been paying it any mind.
We also tried to speak with Delhart Courtney, who had served as general secretary of the Belize National Football Association (BNFA), which became FFB in 2001, but he was not available at the time.
We did manage to speak with David Cruz, the a founding member of the BNFA who served as president for 2 years, and he asserted that he believes that Blatter should resign because “he has served his time and now it is time to go and let someone else come and clean up the mess.”
Cruz mentioned that Blatter should not even be eligible for the election tomorrow, Friday, because he should be held responsible for the corruption that has now marred the reputation of the organization.
“Most of them [FIFA officials], including our FFB president, will vote for him because of the financial rewards that he will offer them”, he charged.
Blatter, who is favored to win a fifth term, is not among the officials who were taken into custody during the raid, and yesterday he issued a statement vowing to kick out corrupt officials from FIFA.
He added that he welcomed the investigations by the US and Swiss authorities.
That was issued after a press briefing in which Acting US Attorney for New York’s Eastern District, Kelly Currie, warned that this was the “beginning, not the end, of the investigation”.
One of the seven arrested in Zurich is Jeffrey Webb, current FIFA vice president and head of the CONCACAF federation that serves North and Central America.
The others arrested were Eduardo Li, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Eugenio Figueredo – also a vice-president, Rafael Esquivel and Jose Maria Marin.
Six of the seven are reportedly contesting extradition to the US.
The seven are among the 11 banned from football-related activity by FIFA. The other four are Jack Warner, Nicolas Leoz, Chuck Blazer and Daryll Warner, Jack Warner’s son.
According to BBC News, four individuals, including Blazer – the former top American official at FIFA – and Daryll Warner pleaded guilty to the charges yesterday.
Jack Warner, a former FIFA vice president from Trinidad, is accused of soliciting US$10M in bribes from South Africa’s government over the hosting of the 2010 World Cup.
Warner turned himself in to authorities in Trinidad after a warrant was issued for his arrest, and was granted bail of TT$2.5 million (US$394,601 million) but spent last night in a remand prison due to a delay in the approval of his bail documents.
He later issued a statement saying he was innocent of any charges.
If convicted on racketeering charges, the defendants could face up to 20 years in prison.
We also tried to solicit comments from former BNFA president, Nicholas Pollard, Jr., and former BNFA executives, Trenton Miller and David Jones, but our attempts were unsuccessful.Amandala