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Two more FIFA officials arrested as scandal widens

fifa-arrests

In a dramatic widening of the FIFA corruption scandal, Swiss police arrested two more top football officials in a dawn raid Thursday on suspicion that they accepted millions of dollars in bribes.

The Swiss justice ministry confirmed a report that a new operation at a luxury hotel in Zurich had snapped up more FIFA officials, after a similar raid at the same spot last May sparked the unprecedented scandal that has shaken football’s world body to its core.

“The high-ranking FIFA officials are alleged to have taken the money in return for selling marketing rights in connection with football tournaments in Latin America, as well as World Cup qualifying matches,” the Swiss justice ministry said in a statement.

The announcement came after the New York Times reported the fresh arrests, as FIFA’s leadership gathered in Zurich for talks on a reform package aimed at repairing world football’s tainted global image.

The Times said Swiss police entered the five-star Baur au Lac hotel in central Zurich at around 6:00 am (0500 GMT) on Thursday.

– Millions in bribes? –

The Swiss Federal Office of Justice (FOJ), as the ministry is known, said it had ordered Zurich police to detain the two “based on arrest requests submitted by the United States Department of Justice on 29 November 2015.”

The US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, suspects the two “of accepting bribes of millions of dollars,” the FOJ statement said.

“Some of the offenses were agreed and prepared in the USA. Payments were also processed via US banks,” the FOJ further said.

FIFA told AFP in an email that it “became aware of the actions taken today by the US Department of Justice.”

It vowed to “continue to cooperate fully with the US investigation as permitted by Swiss law as well as with the investigation being led by the Swiss Office of the Attorney General.”

The FIFA corruption scandal has seen the organization’s longtime president Sepp Blatter suspended and targeted in a criminal investigation in Switzerland, while Michel Platini, once seen as his likely successor, is also suspended and facing a life ban from football.

A source inside FIFA told AFP that the two arrested officials were South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) president Juan Angel Napout, and Alfredo Hawit, head of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF).

The FOJ did not name the two arrested individuals, but said it would do so by the day’s end.

– Reform discussions underway –

As news of the arrests leveled another blow against FIFA’s battered credibility, the organization said its leadership would press ahead with a closely-watched meeting considering a reform package.

In October, top sporting official Francois Carrard’s reform panel proposed limiting president terms at 12 years and barring those over 74 from serving on the executive. It also suggested the pay package of top officials be published annually and independently audited.

The executive committee will decide whether to send the reform package for adoption at a special FIFA congress on February 26, when Blatter’s replacement will be chosen.

The meeting, and the arrests, come on the fifth anniversary of the 2010 vote that controversially awarded the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar.

That decision set off a cascade of allegations of corruption and skullduggery.

The Times cited several law enforcement officials speaking on condition of anonymity as saying that the US Justice Department would unseal indictments in the case on Thursday morning.

The FOJ meanwhile said the Zurich cantonal police, acting on behalf of the ministry, would hold hearings on the US arrest requests before the end of the day.

If the suspects agree to be sent to the US, Switzerland could approve their extradition “immediately”, the FOJ said.

“However, should any person oppose their extradition, the FOJ will ask the USA to submit a formal extradition request within the 40-day deadline laid down in the bilateral extradition treaty,” it added.

Two of the seven former FIFA officials arrested in Zurich in May agreed to simplified proceedings and have been transferred to the United States, but the five others have opposed the move and their appeals against the extradition decision are pending in a Swiss criminal court.

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