NEW YORK: It was the raid that changed the face of the world’s most popular sport. Swiss police swooped in on a five-star Zurich hotel at dawn, arresting seven soccer officials at US request.
Two and a half years later, the only defendants detained in the United States who continue to profess their innocence will go on trial.
When US prosecutors unveiled a years’ long investigation on May 27, 2015, the allegations were dumbfounding: a quarter of a century of endemic corruption in the heart of FIFA, soccer’s governing body.
Forty-two officials and marketing executives, and three companies were indicted in an exhaustive 236-page complaint detailing 92 separate crimes and 15 corruption schemes to the tune of $200 million.
It was the biggest corruption scandal in the history of soccer.
“Two generations of soccer officials,” then attorney general Loretta Lynch said at the time, “used their positions of trust within their respective organizations to solicit bribes from sports marketers in exchange for the commercial rights to their soccer tournaments. They did this over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament.”
Tens of millions of dollars was hidden in offshore accounts in Hong Kong, the Cayman Islands and Switzerland, US officials said.
The charges included racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies.
But only three people are actually going on trial — three fabulously wealthy and once formidably powerful South American soccer officials.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday at the federal court in Brooklyn. Opening statements could begin on November 13.
It will be a hugely complicated trial, expected to last weeks if not months, with prosecutors expected to present 350,000 pages of evidence and dozens of witnesses.
The most high-profile defendant is Jose Maria Marin, 85, former president of Brazil’s Football Confederation — the sport’s organizing body in one of the premier soccer-playing nations in the world.
Since his arrest in Zurich and extradition, he has been out on bail, living in luxury at Trump Tower, the Fifth Avenue skyscraper best known for housing the penthouse and company headquarters of the current US president.