Questions arise about banks' role in FIFA bribery case

Thu May 28, 2015 4:18pm EDT
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By Douwe Miedema and Karen Freifeld

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A raft of banks could face tough questions in the sweeping U.S. crackdown on alleged corruption in global soccer as prosecutors review how much they knew about millions of dollars in bribes flowing through the U.S. banking system to accounts around the world.

    More than a dozen banks are named in the U.S. Department of Justice's indictment of nine officials at FIFA, the game's powerful governing body, and five sports media and promotion executives, over charges involving more than $150 million in bribes.

"Part of our investigation will look at the conduct of the financial institutions to see whether they were cognizant of the fact they were helping launder these bribe payments," Kelly T. Currie, acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said at a news conference.

    "It's too early to say if there is any problematic behavior, but it will be part of our investigation," he said.

    On Wednesday, seven of the officials were arrested in an expensive hotel in Zurich, and are facing extradition for their role in the alleged 24-year bribery scheme. Switzerland is conducting a separate probe into FIFA.

"The defendants ... relied heavily on the United States financial system in connection with their activities,” the indictment said.

    None of the banks named, including JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, Barclays, HSBC, and Republic Bank, were accused of any wrongdoing. JPMorgan, Bank of America, Barclays and HSBC declined to comment. Republic did not respond to requests for comment. Citi said it had been cooperating with the Department of Justice in the investigation.

    Another bank, Delta National Bank & Trust Co, was used by José Hawilla's sports marketing company, the Traffic Group. The company paid millions from its account at Delta in Miami to a FIFA member organization, according to the indictment of Hawilla, one of the individuals who pleaded guilty to the U.S. charges.   Continued...

The logo of soccer's international governing body FIFA is seen on its headquarters in Zurich October 3, 2013.  REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann