US Justice Department hands back $200m stolen from FIFA in one of sport's greatest scandals

Sepp Blatter presided over FIFA during a period in which bribery, racketeering and money laundering were commonplace. Credit: AP

Football’s world governing body FIFA has been handed $32 million (£23m) by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) as compensation for the huge losses it suffered at the hands of a group of corrupt officials who once helped run the game on its behalf. A total of $200m will eventually find its way back to FIFA, courtesy of the DoJ.

During a major FBI operation, the DoJ seized the proceeds of systemic fraud by a selection of elected FIFA members. In 2015, led by the now disgraced Sepp Blatter, parts of FIFA were exposed as rotten and fraudulent, an organisation where bribery, racketeering and money laundering were commonplace.

Accusations of vote buying went into overdrive in 2010 when Russia and Qatar were awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Controversial decisions were not the basis for the FBI investigation, however, which has, many years later, led to the pay out.

Lebanon and South Korea in qualifiers for the Qatar World Cup Credit: AP

What the US authorities actually uncovered was evidence of tens of millions of pounds in bribes and kickbacks paid by marketing executives directly to FIFA officials in return for TV and other exclusive rights attached to major football tournaments. The staggering level of corruption was played out for many years, mainly by FIFA officials in North America, Central America, the Caribbean and South America.

It ended in 2015, when the FBI investigation led to dawn raids by Swiss police at a five star hotel on the shores of Lake Zurich and a series of arrests of FIFA officials.

Since that day, more than 50 individuals and businesses from 20 countries have been charged. A spokesman for the Justice Department said on Tuesday: “Today’s announcement confirms that money stolen by corrupt soccer officials and sports marketing executives through fraud and greed will be returned to where it belongs and used to benefit the sport.”

The funds will be distributed through the regions covered by the FIFA foundation, an independent group set up to support and finance youth, community outreach and humanitarian programmes. In welcoming the development, the FIFA President Gianni Infantino said it is proof that FIFA is a very different organisation these days.

“I want to sincerely thank the US Justice authorities for their efforts in this respect, for their fast and effective approach in bringing these matters to a conclusion, and also for their trust in general,” Mr Infantino said. “The truth is that, thanks to their intervention back in 2015, we have been able to fundamentally change FIFA from a toxic organisation at the time, to a highly esteemed and trusted global sports governing body.”