Investigative reporter Andrew Jennings, the 2017 ACFE Guardian Award recipient, has been chasing bad men around the world for more than three decades. He's dug into the crimes of the members of the International Olympic Committee. And his discoveries at FIFA have led to the eventual indictment and convictions of scores of fraudsters. And he's still ready with the shovel.
Andrew Jennings, a longtime independent investigative journalist, needed some help. He knew something was rotten in the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the international governing board of association football, but he needed some extra evidence.
"In 2001, I turned up at a FIFA press conference in Zürich," Jennings says in a recent Fraud Magazine interview. Jennings grabbed a seat in the front row, directly opposite Sepp Blatter, then FIFA's president. "When he finished giving his usual rubbish to the newswires I put my hand up, grabbed the roaming mic and immediately asked him, 'Have you ever taken a bribe?'
"He was shocked," Jennings says. "How dare a mere reporter ask him, the president of world football, just such a question. Beautifully dressed reporters moved away from me left and right. That was exactly what I intended. To make sure he would never forget me, I was dressed in hiking gear."
Jennings, of course, wasn't really addressing his question just to Blatter. FIFA executives listened intently. "They were bland, but I knew that some of them were not happy with the work they had to do," Jennings says. "They had rent to pay, kids to support through school. They must keep the oath of Omertà [code of silence] or risk losing their jobs. Zürich is a small town, and you don't get a second job easily. But there had to be somebody who could help me."
Jennings' plan to flush out an informant worked. "Six weeks later, I was in downtown Zürich outside a darkened building at midnight," he says. "Suddenly a door opened and I was hustled in, taken up to a penthouse, and there I was offered a drink. It was obvious what I was there for, and within a few minutes a senior FIFA official rushed through the door, apologized for being late and dumped an armful of documents before me. He led me in turn to other senior officials who controlled marvelous sources of material."
Jennings used the evidence to seal his investigative case against Blatter and the organization. In 2006, he released his book, "FOUL! The Secret World of FIFA," in which he alleges a world of bribes, vote rigging and ticket scandals. In June 2006, he told his FIFA story on "Panorama," a British television current affairs documentary program, in the episode, "The Beautiful Bung: Corruption and the World Cup," in which he investigated further allegations of million-dollar bribes to secure marketing rights for the sports marketing company, International Sports and Leisure (ISL), and vote buying to secure Blatter's presidency position.
A visit from the FBI and a cat apartment
In 2009, Jennings says he received a call from a middleman source who said some American gentlemen were in town, and he thought Jennings might like to meet them. The visitors were FBI special agents. Jennings says he met them twice more over the next two years. In 2011, he gave them evidence that included documents that implicated American Chuck Blazer, a FIFA executive committee member, the secretary general of CONCACAF (the federation that oversees soccer in North America, Central America and the Caribbean) from 1990 until 2011 and executive vice president of the U.S. Soccer Federation.
Jennings' slow, methodical digging pushed the FIFA case into the public eye and into the FBI's workload."
The FBI confronted Blazer who then became an informant for the government after it had discovered that he hadn't paid taxes in more than a decade on hidden, multimillion-dollar incomes. According to a New York Daily News exposé, he was alleged to have run up $29 million in credit card charges to support his lifestyle, which included a Trump Tower apartment for him and another for his cats. While serving as CONCACAF secretary general, he allegedly misallocated funds and misused assets. (See
Soccer Rat! The inside story of how Chuck Blazer, ex-U.S. soccer executive and FIFA bigwig, became a confidential informant for the FBI, by Teri Thompson, Mary Papenfuss, Christian Red and Nathaniel Vinton, New York Daily News, Nov. 1, 2014.)
And then on May 27, 2015, Swiss police raided a Zürich luxury hotel and arrested several top FIFA officials and charged them and others with running a $150 million bribery scheme. That day, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) indicted nine FIFA officials and five corporate executives for racketeering conspiracy and corruption. On Dec. 3, 2015, Swiss authorities — led by U.S. officials — arrested more FIFA leaders in the same Zürich hotel. The DOJ then indicted 16 additional FIFA officials on the same charges.
"The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States," said then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch. "It spans at least two generations of soccer officials who, as alleged, have abused their positions of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks." Acting U.S. Attorney Kelly T. Currie
said the indictment "is not the final chapter in our investigation."
On Sept. 25, 2015, Swiss investigators announced they were investigating Blatter on suspicion of criminal mismanagement. (See
Criminal proceedings against the President of FIFA, The Federal Council.) In December 2015, the FIFA Ethics Committee ejected Blatter from office and banned him from FIFA for eight years. (In February 2016, a FIFA appeals committee upheld the suspension but reduced it to six years.)
On July 15, 2015, Jennings testified, with others, at a U.S. Senate hearing on the governance and integrity of international soccer before the Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection. "FIFA is now a smelly shell," he told the subcommittee. "That's all. It has no credibility. … Once upon a time FIFA officials would walk down the street with the FIFA blazer, the logo. 'I'm from FIFA. I'm important.' Who would do that now?"
As of November 2016, the U.S. had convicted 21 on various racketeering and corruption charges with 42 defendants publicly charged, according to
Venezuelan Soccer Official Pleads Guilty; Promises to Repay Millions in FIFA Case, by Rebecca R. Ruiz, The New York Times, Nov. 10, 2016.)
Jennings' slow, methodical digging pushed the FIFA case into the public eye and into the FBI's workload. Simon Jenkins of the Guardian wrote that credit for the routing of FIFA "should go to the dogged obsession of a single reporter, Andrew Jennings." (See
A hero of the Fifa corruption exposé – step forward the British press, The Guardian.)
His relentless, patient searching is the hallmark of his investigations into corruption in Scotland Yard, the Sicilian Mafia and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), among others. For his indefatigable tenacity in uncovering the truth, the ACFE will be presenting him with The Guardian Award at the 28th Annual ACFE Global Fraud Conference, June 18-23 in Nashville.
The ACFE presents The Guardian Award annually to a journalist whose determination, perseverance and commitment to the truth has contributed significantly to the fight against fraud. The award inscription reads: "For Vigilance in Fraud Reporting."
An investigative journalist born and made
Jennings knew his calling early on. "There was no question but from late teenage that I wanted to become an investigative reporter," he says. He went to university but says he was bored after two years. He began doing some investigations and sold them to national newspapers, including The Sunday Times.
"I knew that I needed to learn everything about newspaper production," he says. "I soon gravitated to national papers and moved from reporting to the heart of the paper — night production on the Daily Express, then selling 4 million copies, and then a range of other papers.
"But I wanted to know more. I didn't believe in what I was involved in publishing — it was too superficial. That led me inevitably to what we called the alternative press. Still, there was no sign of what we later called the internet. But the 1970s shows that there was a wealth of enquiring talent outside the confines of the industry; that was where the fun was to be had. They didn't need any qualifications to tell them they sniffed a dirty smell."
Jennings says he was drawn into more freelance TV investigations and eventually moved to London to work on the BBC Radio Four's "Checkpoint" program. "Again, I moved slowly, all the time learning more. Then came my break. I was scheduled to make a one-hour documentary" on corruption in Scotland Yard for BBC TV.
"Nobody [at the BBC] noticed for several months that my investigations into police corruption started with a north London gangster but eventually moved to the most senior level of the of the Metropolitan police. The allegation was serious corruption," he says.
He finished the documentary, and in 1986 the technicians readied it for transmission. "Then the axe came down. The head of news and current affairs deemed we hadn't got enough evidence! This was one of the world's biggest broadcasters. End of show. I was sent back to work on regional programs.
"I wasn't prepared to accept this," he says. "It was the end of my career in television. I quit the BBC and went home to write the book ["Scotland Yard's Cocaine Connection"]. Money was running tight, and then the phone rang. … It was the editor of Britain's toughest and unflinching-courage public affairs show — "World in Action" [produced by British ITV Granada] — with vast influence and viewers' figures. He'd heard that the BBC had dropped the baton. Would I like to come in and see him?
" 'World in Action' had all the resources needed to tell the story. I re-made the film with a producer named Paul Greengrass. He's since gone on to make the Bourne series of films," Jennings says.
There's seldom someone who works with such feverish devotion and dedication and such passion."
Jennings then filmed several other international investigations and small documentaries for Granada, including an investigation of British involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, which won the gold medal at the 1989 New York TV Festival. He entered Chechnya in 1993 with the first Western TV crew to investigate Caucasus Mafia activity.
Jennings then went digging into the Sicilian Mafia and filed "nose to nose with the mob in Palermo as they exported tons of heroin to England and America. This was my essential preparation for my next investigation: the International Olympic Committee," he says.
In 1992, he wrote "The Lords of the Rings," now translated into 13 languages, in 1996, "The New Lords of the Rings: Olympic Corruption & How to Buy Gold Medals" and in 2000 with Clare Sambrook, "The Great Olympic Swindle." Sports Illustrated named "The Lords of the Rings" one of the Top 100 Sports Books of all Time. Jennings revealed that IOC officials were collecting bribes from countries seeking to host the Olympic Games in exchange for broadcasting and marketing rights.
"The IOC screamed out to be investigated," he says. "Again, you had a little circle of agency reporters who loyally reported what they were told. They never raised the issue that nobody at the IOC was elected, their mythology was bogus, and particularly in the 1980s, their ranks were stuffed with men long overdue for investigation," Jennings says. "But it was easier to publish what they were told at press conferences and never, never dig any deeper. A German reporter friend of mine refers to it as the 'he said' school of journalism. It was wonderful territory!"
And then in 2001, a sports reporter persuaded Jennings to take a look into FIFA. "I didn't rush to any immediate conclusions," Jennings says. "There was no hurry because there was no risk that any other reporter was going to launch an investigation. …
"Organized Crime is a definition not to apply in a hurry. But I did what no other reporters did. I went to Rio [de Janeiro] and listened. Other reporters make the mistake of looking at Blatter, as if it all began with him. In fact the rot set in back in 1974 when [Brazilian lawyer and businessman Jean-Marie Faustin Godefroid de] Havelange took over as president [of FIFA]. With the help of Brazilian journalists, I unraveled Havelange's extensive dealings with the boss of the Rio Mafia."
In November 2010, Jennings alleged in his TV program, "FIFA's Dirty Secrets," an edition of the BBC's "Panorama," that Ricardo Terra Teixeira, Havelange's son-in-law at the time, and president of the Brazilian Football Confederation, had taken bribes in the 1990s for the awarding of contracts for the sale of television rights to the World Cup.
In July 2012, a Swiss prosecutor's report revealed that during his tenure on FIFA's executive committee, Havelange and Teixeira took more than 41 million Swiss francs in bribes from ISL in connection with the award of World Cup marketing rights, according to
Sepp Blatter faces calls to step down at Fifa over 'bribery cover-up,' by David Conn, The Guardian, July 12, 2012. Teixeira stepped down as the head of the Brazilian Football Confederation in 2012.
According to the International Business Times, Brazil's police have charged Teixeira with public document forgery, fraud, tax evasion and money laundering. He hasn't been indicted. (See
Who is Ricardo Teixeira? Brazil's Former Soccer Head Charged with Corruption, by Aditya Tejas, International Business Times, June 2, 2015.) The FIFA story continues.
And you'll get there eventually …
Jennings, at 73, isn't shy and is definitely not retiring. He and his wife live in a rented farmhouse in the remote English countryside. But he's still digging, and calling and pecking away at his computer with his index fingers. Headlines on his website, Transparencyinsport.org, "The Bagman and FIFA's Bosses," "Belize's Bad Boy Bertie gets Blatter's Backing," "Bribes fear as London bids to host 2017 Track champs," show a man who's still doing what he's always done.
"In this day and age, you do not come across characters like Andrew Jennings very often," says CBS producer Michael Gavshon, during
a recent "60 Minutes" segment. "There's seldom someone who works with such feverish devotion and dedication and such passion. It just doesn't happen anymore. … He's absolutely fearless. He's never been one to pull his punches. …
"For years he was saying things that sounded quite outrageous, that people could not accept, people didn't want to hear. In fact, 15 years after investigating FIFA, everything he said is proven to be true," Gavshon says.
"It is for others to say these stories are great coups," Jennings says. "I admit to being pleased, but I'm sure there is another story around the corner. The only advice I have for fraud examiners, but it's important advice, is this: If you know, hang on in there; you will catch them eventually. Every year that passes, the final result is that much sweeter."
Dick Carozza, CFE, is editor-in-chief of Fraud Magazine. His email address is: dcarozza@ACFE.com.
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"Bribery is often difficult to detect."