Lynch: US investigators continue to pursue soccer corruption

In this Jan. 12, 2017 photo, Attorney General Loretta Lynch speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at the University of Baltimore School of Law in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
A man sweeps snow next to the FIFA logo on the occasion the FIFA Council meeting at the Home of FIFA in Zurich, Switzerland, Tuesday, January 10. FIFA will expand the World Cup to 48 teams, adding 16 extra nations to the 2026 tournament which is likely to be held in North America. President Gianni Infantino's favored plan — for 16 three-team groups with the top two advancing to a round of 32 — was unanimously approved Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017 by the FIFA Council. (Ennio Leanza/Keystone via AP)
The FIFA logo is pictured on the occasion the FIFA Council meeting at the Home of FIFA in Zurich, Switzerland, Tuesday, Jan. 10. 2017. FIFA will expand the World Cup to 48 teams, adding 16 extra nations to the 2026 tournament which is likely to be held in North America. President Gianni Infantino's favored plan — for 16 three-team groups with the top two advancing to a round of 32 — was unanimously approved Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017 by the FIFA Council. (Ennio Leanza/Keystone via AP)
In this Jan. 12, 2017 photo, Attorney General Loretta Lynch poses for a portrait during an interview with The Associated Press at the University of Baltimore School of Law in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
In this Jan. 12, 2017 photo, Attorney General Loretta Lynch speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at the University of Baltimore School of Law in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

BALTIMORE — American criminal investigators are continuing to pursue soccer corruption, according to outgoing Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who initiated the prosecution of fraudulent FIFA executives.

Lynch attracted global attention by jolting the world's most popular sport, launching sprawling criminal cases that burst into view with early morning arrests in May 2015 at a luxury hotel in Zurich ahead of the FIFA presidential election.

The FIFA case, which started when Lynch was a U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn before being appointed the country's chief law enforcement officer in 2015, has led to more than 40 people or organizations being charged.

"The work that we did, the cooperation from our international partners really made that case possible as well. It continues. It's ongoing," Lynch said in an interview with The Associated Press.

"The first trial is scheduled for October, and the investigation continues," she added.

The American case alleges bribery, fraud, money laundering, and racketeering, including in the award of hosting rights for FIFA's showpiece World Cup and broadcasting rights for the tournament's qualifying matches and other international competitions.

"FIFA is supposed to help (children) by building soccer fields and maintaining them," Lynch said. "So when you have an organization that has so much power, so many resources ... and to have them just abdicate that responsibility for personal gain to me, was and is, particularly galling."

The scandal helped to topple FIFA President Sepp Blatter, whose 17-year reign ended in October 2015 when financial wrongdoing was unearthed in a parallel Swiss investigation.

Lynch's tenure is drawing to a close with President-elect Donald Trump due to be inaugurated on Friday, and Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican, is his choice to succeed her. Highlighting the importance of pursuing cases against sports-related sleaze, Lynch said the FIFA investigation "exemplifies why corruption is so corrosive" in society.

"When you're talking about sports, that's how we teach our kids about fair play and sportsmanship," she said. "We want them to look up to these sports figures. It's a character building exercise for them to play sports. So when someone takes that and turns it into the exact opposite and uses the American financial system to do so, that's when we have to crack down.

"And that's the lesson, I think, of that case — not just the cooperation and the hard work, but also corruption is corrosive on so many levels in terms of the financial system, in terms of the legal harm, but also the way it kills ideals — in young people, in people who look up to their figures and place their trust in organizations."

One of the highest-ranking executives to plead guilty is former CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands, who awaits sentence at his Atlanta area home after pleading guilty to racketeering charges.

Chuck Blazer, CONCACAF's No. 2 official from 1990-2011 who was the top American on FIFA's executive committee, helped Lynch to unearth wrongdoing in soccer. Her name was on 2013 court documents detailing a plea agreement that led to Blazer wearing a wire to assist the investigation. Blazer pleaded guilty to racketeering, conspiracy and tax evasion, including admitting receiving payments in a $10 million bribe scheme to support South Africa's successful bid to host the 2010 World Cup.

"(The FIFA) case to me also symbolizes what we do at DOJ (Department of Justice), which is we look at things that affect peoples' everyday lives," Lynch said. "Soccer is the most popular game in the world."

___

Harris reported from London.

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