Court transcripts containing testimony from three high-profile defendants in the FIFA corruption investigation were released to the public by a US judge yesterday.
The transcripts quoted Jeffrey Webb, a former FIFA vice president and CONCACAF president; Alejandro Burzaco, an Argentine sports marketing executive; and José Margulies, a naturalized Brazilian businessman who is said to have acted as an intermediary. All three pled guilty to charges of racketeering, money laundering, and wire fraud.
All three men expressed regret as they acknowledged that they accepted bribes while negotiating commercial and broadcast rights for various soccer matches and tournaments, from World Cup qualifiers to the upcoming Copa América Centenario.
One quote from the transcripts reads as very telling of the business culture that made such wide-ranging corruption not just possible but inevitable.
While delivering his guilty plea, Webb was told that “side payments” would be offered as part of the negotiation process for various commercial rights, with the implication that this was just how the business worked.
“I believed that such offers were common in this business.”
This quote strikes at the heart of the problem that has thrown world football into turmoil. The culture in world football, the pond that football officials and business executives, not only engaged in shady dealings but perpetuated a vicious cycle that deflected responsibility and downplayed the ethical ramifications of their business practices. These wealthy and powerful individuals convinced themselves that what they were doing wasn’t wrong. That this wasn’t greed or corruption. This was just the business.
Meanwhile, the investigation and criminal proceedings continue. A total of 15 individuals have been cooperating with prosecutors in exchange for lighter sentences, meaning we can expect more telling releases like this in the near future.