By Simon Evans
(Reuters) – The 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the only major scheduled football event left unchanged after this year’s calendar was wrecked by the coronavirus, has become the focus of fresh FIFA corruption allegations after the release of a new U.S. Department of Justice indictment.
Suspicion and rumours have long surrounded the 2010 vote by FIFA’s executive to hand the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar. But on Monday, for the first time, prosecutors set direct, formal allegations down in print.
According to the prosecutors, representatives working for Russia and Qatar bribed FIFA executive committee officials to swing votes in the crucial decision of world football’s governing body.
FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Although FIFA have responded to previous media allegations about the Qatar bid process by insisting the tournament will be unaffected, the U.S allegations will lead to further questions over the hosting of the competition, which is scheduled for November and December of 2022.
The allegations made by the Department of Justice are that then FIFA vice-president Jack Warner was paid $5 million through various shell companies to vote for Russia to host the 2018 World Cup.
Warner has been accused of a number of crimes in the long-running U.S probe, and he is fighting extradition from his homeland of Trinidad and Tobago. Warner, who was not immediately reachable for comment, has always denied any wrongdoing.
The indictment also states that the three South American members of FIFA’s 2010 executive – Brazil’s Ricardo Teixeira, the late Nicolás Leoz of Paraguay and an unnamed co-conspirator – took bribes to vote for Qatar to host the 2022 tournament.
«Ricardo Teixeira, Nicolás Leoz and co-conspirator #1 were offered and received bribe payments in exchange for their votes in favour of Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup.»
Qatar and Russia’s World Cup bids have always denied paying bribes. Qatari organisers did not provide immediate comment when contacted by Reuters.
Alexei Sorokin, CEO of the local organizing committee for Russia’s 2018 World Cup, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Asked if the Kremlin was aware of the U.S. indictment, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: «We read the media reports. We don’t understand what they refer to. Russia received the right to host the World Cup completely legally. It is in no way linked to any bribes. We reject this. And Russia hosted the best soccer World Cup in history, which we are proud of.»
Teixeira was also not immediately reachable for comment.
The Qatar World Cup organizers have been fending off allegations of corruption ever since the tiny Gulf state was awarded the 2022 tournament.
In 2014, FIFA, then under the control of former President Sepp Blatter, cleared Russia and Qatar of wrongdoing in their bids to host the World Cup after an investigation.
Blatter was banned from football by FIFA along with scores of other officials following internal ethics investigations, promoted by the arrests of seven FIFA officials on U.S corruption charges in Zurich in May 2015.
(This story corrects year in second paragraph to 2022, not 2020)
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Alexander Marrow and Maria Grabar in Moscow; Editing by Hugh Lawson)