The money was seized from the bank accounts of former officials who were involved in the schemes and then prosecuted following a probe into years of corruption within world soccer.
Since the DOJ unveiled the corruption probe in 2015, more than 50 defendants have been criminally charged. Twenty-seven people and four corporate entities have pleaded guilty, and two people were convicted at trial.
“Today’s announcement confirms that money stolen by corrupt soccer officials and sports marketing executives through fraud and greed will be returned to where it belongs and used to benefit the sport,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn Kasulis for the Eastern District of New York in a statement.
“From the start, this investigation and prosecution have been focused on bringing wrongdoers to justice and restoring ill-gotten gains to those who work for the benefit of the beautiful game.”
The DOJ said $32.3 million in forfeited funds has been approved for an initial distribution to FIFA, CONCACAF, the confederation responsible for soccer in North and Central America, CONMEBOL, which represents soccer in South America, and various constituent national soccer federations.
The funds will go into a new World Football Remission Fund to help finance football-related projects across the globe.
“I am delighted to see that money which was illegally siphoned out of football is now coming back to be used for its proper purposes, as it should have been in the first place,” said FIFA President Gianni Infantino in a statement.
“I would like to thank the U.S. authorities for the trust placed in FIFA, and we will make sure that these funds are used properly and bring tangible benefits for people who really need it.”
Many of the defendants were ordered to forfeit assets obtained through criminal activity.
Under U.S. law the DOJ has the authority to distribute the proceeds of forfeited assets to victims of crimes, including to the soccer organisations that were defrauded.
Reynaldo Vasquez, the former president of El Salvador’s soccer federation, pleaded guilty on Monday to a racketeering conspiracy charge arising from a corruption investigation involving the payment of bribes to stage and broadcast matches.
“Kickbacks and bribes have a way of spreading like a disease through corrupt groups; pure and simple greed keeps the graft going,” said Assistant Director-in-Charge Michael J. Driscoll of the FBI’s New York Field Office.
“Not one official in this investigation seemed to care about the damage being done to a sport that millions around the world revere.
“The only silver lining is the money will now help underprivileged people who need it, not the wealthy executives who just wanted it to get richer.
“Our work isn’t finished, and our promise to those who love the game – we won’t give up until everyone sees justice for what they’ve done.”
By Steve Keating