In an overnight raid on a Zurich hotel, Swiss police arrested seven top officials in world football's governing body, FIFA, on charges of corruption. Two vice-presidents among those charged
A combination of file pictures shows Fifa officials (L to R, from upper row) Rafael Esquivel, Nicolas Leoz, Jeffrey Webb, Jack Warner, Eduardo Li, Eugenio Figueredo and Jose Maria Marin. The seven men are among several officials charged today for allegedly receiving bribes worth millions of dollars.
Football's powerful, polarizing governing body found itself on the defensive on two fronts yesterday, one a Swiss investigation into World Cup bidding and the other a sweeping, stinging U.S. indictment homing in on what America's top justice official called "corruption that is rampant, systemic and deep-rooted."
Swiss prosecutors opened criminal proceedings into FIFA's awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, only hours after seven officials were arrested pending extradition to the U.S. in a separate probe.
FIFA, meanwhile, said Friday's presidential election would go ahead as planned with Sepp Blatter going for a fifth term. Blatter was not named in either investigation. FIFA also ruled out a revote of the World Cups won by Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022.
The Swiss prosecutors' office said in a statement they seized "electronic data and documents" at FIFA's headquarters yesterday as part of their probe. And Swiss police said they will question 10 FIFA executive committee members who took part in the World Cup votes in December 2010. The Swiss investigation against "persons unknown on suspicion of criminal mismanagement and of money laundering" again throws into the doubt the integrity of the voting.
"FIFA is fully cooperating with the investigation and is supporting the collection of evidence in this regard," FIFA said in a statement. The Swiss announcement came only hours after 14 people were indicted in the U.S. for corruption. Seven of them were arrested and detained by Swiss police at the request of U.S. authorities after a raid at a luxury hotel in Zurich.
The U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement that two current FIFA vice presidents were among those arrested and indicted, Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands and Eugenio Figueredo of Uruguay. The others are Eduardo Li of Costa Rica, Julio Rocha of Nicaragua, Costas Takkas of Britain, Rafael Esquivel of Venezuela and Jose Maria Marin of Brazil.
All seven are connected with the regional confederations of North and South America and face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
"The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States," Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said in the statement. "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." Nine of the 14 that were indicted by the Justice Department are football officials, while four are sports marketing executives and another works in broadcasting. Jack Warner, a former FIFA vice president from Trinidad and Tobago, was among those indicted. The Swiss prosecutors' office said the U.S. probe was separate from its investigation but that authorities were working together.
The U.S. case involves bribes "totaling more than $100 million" linked to commercial deals dating back to the 1990s for soccer tournaments in the United States and Latin America, the Swiss Federal Office of Justice said. The Justice Department said the corruption is linked to World Cup qualifying matches and the Copa America South America's continental championship.
Dozens of football officials are in Switzerland for the FIFA congress and presidential election, where Blatter is widely expected to win re-election at the helm of the governing body of world football. Blatter's only opponent in Friday's presidential election, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, said it was "a sad day for football," but declined to comment further.
The Swiss Federal Office of Justice said in its statement that U.S. authorities suspect the arrested officials of having received or paid bribes totaling millions of dollars and that the crimes were agreed to and prepared in the U.S., and payments carried out via U.S. banks.Meanwhile, FIFA says it welcomes the indictment of several key officials and the criminal proceedings into World Cup voting because it shows corruption is being eradicated from world football. Speaking hours after the arrests, FIFA spokesman Walter de Gregorio said the governing body "initiated this process" by lodging a legal complaint with Swiss authorities last year. De Gregorio says FIFA is the "damaged party" and the action by authorities in the U.S. and Switzerland "can help contribute to rooting out any wrongdoing in football."
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said "we've got nothing to hide". UEFA spokesman Pedro Pinto UEFA may urge postponing FIFA presidential vote.