Fifa dominoes fall, but does the trail lead to Blatter?

  • AFP, Washington
  • Updated: Jun 04, 2015 09:47 IST

The US investigation into world football governing body Fifa is modeled after an operation against an organized crime gang.

Each henchman to fall is like a domino, knocking over others in a chain to the presumed Mr Big.

It's a technique mastered by US prosecutors targeting mafia rackets and drug cartels, and recognizable to experts observing the case.

"Reading the indictment as a former prosecutor, it's clear that they're looking at an upper level of the organization," said John Lauro, who worked in the same New York district that filed the Fifa arrest warrants.

"I think the overall goal of the investigation is to indict the highest level of the association, that's the ultimate goal."

The highest level of Fifa, throughout the period covered by the investigations, was the body's Swiss president Sepp Blatter.

He strenuously denies all wrongdoing, but the turn taken by the US investigation suggests that more arrests are in the pipeline.

Loretta Lynch, who began the investigation before she was named US Attorney General, said as much as she unveiled the first indictments.

The inquiry was just beginning, she said, and Fifa is being targeted under the RICO act as a "Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization."

When the initially defiant Blatter announced his surprise resignation on Tuesday, many assumed that he was under investigation.

Those targeted in last week's indictments were not the first Fifa executives served.

Several of their alleged co-conspirators have pleaded guilty and agreed to becoming cooperative witnesses.

Now prosecutors will try to get the newly detained suspects to turn on others.

"I suspect the dominos are going to fall quickly," said Andy Spaulding, a law professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia and a specialist in international corruption.

Lauro agreed, saying the indictments suggest the Feds have a very detailed understanding of Fifa's internal practices.

"There's a number of other people out there that could be the subject of an indictment," the former prosecutor said.

"You'd better come in and cooperate or we're going be directing our activities against you."

Lawyer David Weinstein compared the case to former attorney general Robert Kennedy's attack on organized crime in the 1960s.

"There's no rush but they have momentum now," he said, describing the US indictments as the first dominos that led to the Swiss arrests.

"The pressure is certainly on others to cooperate and to provide evidence that will either exonerate them or assist them in reducing them their exposure."

Weinstein said former Fifa vice-president Jack Warner's two sons -- now cooperating witnesses -- led the investigation to Chuck Blazer.

Blazer, the former larger than life leader of the North American football body CONCACAF now a sickly old man, agreed to wear a wire.

Now, prosecutors appear to be focused on $10 million payment South Africa made to a body controlled by Warner before the country was awarded the rights to hold the 2010 World Cup.

The transfer was allegedly overseen by Blatter's right-hand man, Jerome Valke, who also insists he has nothing to answer for.

There has been nothing in his public statements to suggest it, but perhaps one day Blatter himself may agree to testify.

The veteran strongman at the heart of world football may have information on dubious transfers from sponsors and other countries.

"If he cooperates it's all going to come down, all the dominos will fall," said Spalding.

"We can infer by his resignation that he's aware of evidence incriminating him, there will be an indictment and perhaps a settlement with Blatter, likely pretty soon."

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