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Why did it take so long to crack down on corrupt FIFA?

The world's most popular sport is run by FIFA, a powerful group that rakes in billions of dollars. Today, authorities in both the U.S. and Switzerland launched probes into corruption and bribery within soccer's international governing body. Gwen Ifill discusses the dramatic announcement with Matt Apuzzo of The New York Times and ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    I am joined now by two reporters who've been following these events closely, Jeremy Schaap of ESPN, who recently released a documentary exploring corruption inside FIFA, and Matt Apuzzo. He's been covering the legal side of the story for The New York Times.

    That's where I will start, Matt.

    How is it that the U.S. Justice Department, the U.S. FBI got involved in these indictments and these arrests and this investigation?

  • MATT APUZZO, The New York Times:

    American law gives the Justice Department broad latitude to target foreign nationals abroad with just the slightest nexus to the United States.

    In this case, there were some meetings that were held in the United States. And most significantly for prosecutors and agents in New York is the allegations are that FIFA officials used the American banking system as part of this corrupt scheme. So that gives them the hook they need to bring these charges.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Jeremy Schaap, tell us a little bit. You have done quite a great deal of work looking into FIFA. Tell us a little bit about whether if FIFA is at its root a sports organization or kind of a global financial powerhouse.

  • JEREMY SCHAAP, ESPN:

    Or a criminal enterprise, which is pretty much what the Department of Justice was alleging today in that extraordinary press conference in Brooklyn.

    I think people who have even a casual understanding of what FIFA represents associate it with corruption and cronyism and a lack of transparency. But it's quite different to hear that coming out of the mouth of the attorney general of the United States, the director of the FBI.

    Make no mistake, FIFA has weathered scandal after scandal, particularly over the course of the last 17 years, as Sepp Blatter of Switzerland has been its president, but I think this is a watershed moment.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Tell us a little bit about Sepp Blatter, Jeremy.

  • JEREMY SCHAAP:

    Well, Sepp Blatter has been president, as I said, for 17 years. He is running for reelection Friday. That would be his fifth term, after promising not to run for reelection when he ran for a fourth term four years ago.

    He has been at FIFA for 40 years. He joined the organization in 1975, when he was one of 12 employees. And over the years, he's demonstrated a remarkable aptitude for the political aspect of his job. And, by that, I mean, he has worked very effectively at perpetuating his own power.

    Anyone you talk to about Sepp Blatter, who knows him well, will tell you that he is highly intelligent, that he can be charming. But it's clear that his stewardship of this organization has been, to put it generously, lax in ethical terms.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Well, I can say that — we can repeat — it won't hurt to repeat that he wasn't charged with anything today.

    Matt Apuzzo, of the 14 who were charged today, tell us a little bit about them and also about the charges. Are they basically being charged with rigging the game?

  • MATT APUZZO:

    You know, they're not being charged with rigging the game of soccer. They're being charged with rigging the business of soccer.

    And Jeremy's point is spot on. Are they a — is this a sporting group, is this a global conglomerate, or is it a criminal enterprise? The way Loretta Lynch and Jim Comey talked about FIFA, they used terms and they used charges that normally are associated with the mafia or Mexican drug cartels.

    Basically, the idea is FIFA has over a billion dollars in cash reserves. They generate between $1 billion and $2 billion in revenue every year. And if you want a piece of that, if you want to be associated with the money and the prestige of the World Cup and international soccer, you have got to pay.

    And, you know, the indictment just talks about, you know, here are senior FIFA officials who have the vote on where the World Cup is going to go, and they're shopping it around to the highest bidder. One country will give me a million dollars. One country will give me $10 million.

    I mean, it is just — it was just remarkable to read how explicit this stuff was.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And, Matt, as far as we — I remember the supposed. I'm not that close to a soccer fan, but I remember the surprise when Qatar, which has no culture of soccer, got the World Cup for several — several years hence, but still people were really surprised. Is there a suspicion that that was rugged?

  • MATT APUZZO:

    Well, I mean, the suspicion on the 2018 and the 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar, I mean, has just plagued FIFA for years.

    But what is remarkable is, while the Swiss are investigating those two, the United States didn't come down — those bids were not part of this investigation. Instead, they went back 20 years and said, look, this is a systemic problem that's not limited to just one or two World Cup selections.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Well, let me ask Jeremy Schaap about that systemic problem.

    If this has been going on so long, if there have been this many suspicions over the years about the way that business was being done at FIFA, why is it just rising to the level of indictments now?

  • JEREMY SCHAAP:

    Well, I think Jim Comey addressed that a little bit during the press conference. A lot of it is about jurisdiction. A lot of it is about the fact that FIFA operates under Swiss law as essentially nothing more than a nonprofit, like a yodeling association. That's often the analogy that is thrown out there.

    So this multibillion-dollar conglomerate, you could call it, which has so many interests and so many aspects of global soccer, it really doesn't have any overarching oversight from the Swiss government. We don't know much about its workings. It doesn't have to publish its minutes. We don't know the salaries of its employees. It's been able to operate under this veil of secrecy.

    And, of course, over the last couple of decades, Switzerland has been trying to change its image. It doesn't want to be considered any more the place where dictators and criminals hide their money. And FIFA has become an embarrassment. And Sepp Blatter, too, to an extent, has become an embarrassment to Switzerland.

    So the fact that the Swiss cooperated and worked hand-in-hand with the U.S. Department of Justice and are conducting their own investigation, I think the importance of that cannot be overstated. And once the Swiss determine that they are going to oversee organizations such FIFA and the IOC in a different way, that might force them to be more accountable.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Matt, it sounded at the Justice Department today like this is the beginning of an investigation, not the end.

  • MATT APUZZO:

    Yes, it was really remarkable.

    And it's sort of par for the course for the Justice Department to say the investigation is ongoing. But, I mean, prosecutors sort of laid down the marker here. They said, this is the beginning, not the end. And we are going to root out corruption from international soccer.

    You know, especially for a new attorney general to come in and lay down that marker, with 18 months to go in her tenure, it wasn't just the sort of, well, you know, more charges could come because the investigation is ongoing. They went there today, they went to New York to send the message to international soccer. You haven't cleaned up your house. We are coming to clean up your house.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Matt Apuzzo of The New York Times, Jeremy Schaap of ESPN, thank you both for your work.

  • MATT APUZZO:

    Great. Thank you

  • JEREMY SCHAAP:

    Thanks.

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