Major crackdown on FIFA

Football : Swiss authorities arrest seven prominent figures on corruption allegations
Last Updated 27 May 2015, 18:49 IST
 Seven of the most powerful figures in global soccer faced extradition to the United States on corruption charges after their arrest on Wednesday in Switzerland, where authorities also announced a criminal investigation into the awarding of the next two World Cups.

The world's most popular sport was plunged into turmoil after US and Swiss authorities announced separate inquiries into the activities of the game's powerful governing body, FIFA.

US authorities said nine soccer officials and five sports media and promotions executives faced corruption charges involving more than $150 million in bribes. In pursuit of the US case, Swiss police arrested seven FIFA officials who are now awaiting extradition to the United States.

US officials gave details of a case in which they said they exposed complex money laundering schemes, found millions of dollars in untaxed incomes and tens of millions in offshore accounts held by FIFA officials.

At a New York press conference, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said authorities were seeking the arrest of other people in connection with the case.

One of those indicted, former FIFA Vice President Jack Warner of Trinidad, solicited $10 million in bribes from the South African government to host the 2010 World Cup, the Justice Department said. Warner issued a statement saying he is innocent of any charges.

Those arrested did not include Sepp Blatter, the Swiss head of FIFA, but included several just below him in the hierarchy of sport's wealthiest body. Lynch said the US was not charging Blatter at this time.

Of the 14 indicted by the US Department of Justice, seven FIFA officials, including Vice-President Jeffrey Webb, were being held in Zurich. Four people and two corporate defendants had already pleaded guilty to various charges, the department said.

The Miami, Florida, headquarters of CONCACAF - the soccer federation that governs North America, Central America and the Caribbean - were being searched on Wednesday, the DoJ said. "As charged in the indictment, the defendants fostered a culture of corruption and greed that created an uneven playing field for the biggest sport in the world," said FBI Director James Comey. "Undisclosed and illegal payments, kickbacks, and bribes became a way of doing business at FIFA."

The FIFA officials appeared to have walked into a trap set by US and Swiss authorities. The arrests were made at dawn at a plush Zurich hotel, the Baur au Lac, where FIFA officials are staying before a vote this week that is expected to anoint Blatter for a fifth term in office. Suites at the hotel cost up to $4,000 a night.

FIFA called the arrests a "difficult moment" but said Blatter would seek another term as FIFA head as planned and the upcoming World Cups would go ahead as intended.

Separate from the US investigation, Swiss prosecutors said they had opened their own criminal proceedings against unidentified people on suspicion of mismanagement and money laundering related to the awarding of rights to host the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 event in Qatar.

Officials said that following the arrests, accounts at several banks in Switzerland had been blocked.

The US Department of Justice named those arrested in its case as: Webb, Eduardo Li, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, another FIFA Vice-President, Eugenio Figueredo, Rafael Esquivel and José Maria Marin.

An authoritative source said their extradition could take years if it was contested.
The DoJ said the defendants included US and South American sports marketing executives alleged to have paid and agreed to pay "well over $150 million in bribes and kickbacks to obtain lucrative media and marketing rights to international soccer tournaments".

"The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States," Lynch said in a statement.

The guilty pleas were those of Charles Blazer, a former US representative on FIFA's executive committee, and José Hawilla, owner of the Traffic Group, a sports marketing firm, and two of his companies.

What happened in Zurich

Why the arrests?

Nine FIFA officials and five sports media and promotion executives were arrested after US Department of Justice charged them on suspicion of receiving bribes amounting to nearly $150 million to obtain lucrative media and marketing rights to international tournaments.
Concurrently Swiss prosecutors opened criminal investigation into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids.

Who were the main FIFA officials arrested?

Jeffrey Web (FIFA vice-president); Eugenio Figueredo (FIFA vice-president); Jack Warner (Former president of CONCACAF and former FIFA vice-president); Rafael Esquivel  (President of Venezuelan Football Federation); Jose Maria Marin (former president of Brazilian Football Confederation and president of Local Organising Committee for 2014 World Cup); Nicolas Leoz (Former president of CONMEBOL, Former member of FIFA's executive committee); Eduardo Li (President of Costa Rican Football Federation and Special advisor to the Organising Committee for the FIFA U-20 and U-17 Women's World Cups); Julio Rocha (Former president of Nicaraguan Football Federation and FIFA Development Officer); Coasta Takkas  (Former General Secretary the Cayman Islands Football Association).

Why were the arrests made now?

With the FIFA scheduled to hold its annual general meeting on Friday in Zurich where it will elect its president, all of them were camped in at the Baur au Lac hotel. This made their catch a relatively easier job.

(Published 27 May 2015, 17:15 IST)

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