You may remember that back in May of 2015, senior FIFA officials were arrested on corruption charges in Zurich. Those arrests rocked the foundations of the world's most popular sport. But little did we know at the time that the case was so wide-ranging and complex that its reverberation involved the FBI, the IRS, Donald Trump, Christopher Steele, Robert Mueller, James Comey, and Vladimir Putin.
As the final of the World Cup is played in Russia this weekend, the WhoWhatWhy podcast features a conversation with investigative journalist Ken Bensinger, who spells out the 40-year history of bribery, corruption, and money laundering that has been at the heart of world-wide professional soccer.
Ken Bensinger was part of the team at BuzzFeed that uncovered the Christopher Steele dossier. He’s also become the go-to authority on the complexity of the world’s biggest sports scandal.
This week, Bensinger tells Jeff Schechtman how corruption ran unchecked for decades, until a team of investigators from the one country that cared the least about soccer stepped in to try to stop it.
He takes us up close and personal with American FIFA executive Chuck Blazer, considered the most corrupt soccer official in history. He was a friend of Donald Trump and lived on the 49th floor of Trump tower. When the IRS discovered and confronted him about not having paid taxes for 17 years, Blazer turned state's evidence against other FIFA officials.
We learn about the FBI and IRS soccer task forces. The multinational crimes unit overseen by the FBI director, at the time — Robert Mueller. When the arrests were made in May 2015, it was announced by then-FBI Director James Comey.
Bensinger also tells Schechtman about how Putin became interested in wanting the 2018 World Cup, and how he enlisted oligarchs in the process. And finally how Putin’s corrupt efforts were uncovered by the British, who’d had a competing bid, and hired none other than Christopher Steele to find out what the Russians were up to.
There is a lot more to this complex global story — including heads of state, like the president of Argentina who felt soccer was more important than his government; an illegal sports book that was busted at Trump Tower; and the role of Russian organized crime. Listening to this week’s podcast is a great prelude to the World Cup final.
Ken Bensinger is the author of Red Card: How the US Blew the Whistle on the World's Biggest Sports Scandal (Simon & Schuster, June 12, 2018).