Swiss authorities conducted an early-morning operation in Zurich to arrest a number of top FIFA officials and extradited them to the United States on federal corruption charges.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter was not among those rounded up by authorities, but vice-president Jeffrey Webb from the Cayman Islands was arrested.
The arrests took place while officials from 209-member nations gathered in Zurich for the FIFA Congress where incumbent Blatter faces a challenge from Jordan’s Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein in a presidential election of Friday.
The FBI-backed charges allege widespread corruption in FIFA over the past two decades, involving bids for World Cups as well as marketing and broadcast deals.
The indictment names 14 people on charges including racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy. It is also expected to name sports-marketing executives from the United States and South America who are accused of paying more than $150 million in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for media deals associated with major tournaments.
Among those charged are Jeffrey Webb, Eugenio Figueredo, Jack Warner , Eduardo Li, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Rafael Esquivel, Jose Maria Marin and Nicolas Leoz; this according to a law enforcement official.
“We’re struck by just how long this went on for and how it touched nearly every part of what FIFA did,” said the official. “It just seemed to permeate every element of the federation and was just their way of doing business. It seems like this corruption was institutionalized.”
A statement from the Swiss Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) said: “The US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York is investigating these individuals on suspicion of the acceptance of bribes and kickbacks between the early 1990s and the present day.
“The bribery suspects – representatives of sports media and sports promotion firms – are alleged to have been involved in schemes to make payments to the soccer functionaries – delegates of FIFA and other functionaries of FIFA sub-organizations – totaling more than $100m.”
In a separate operation, officers raided FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich, seized electronic date and opened criminal proceedings “against persons unknown on suspicion of criminal mismanagement and of money laundering in connection with the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 football World Cups,” said a statement from the Swiss attorney general.
The statement continued: “There are also suspicions of money laundering through Swiss bank accounts. Subsequently to today’s seizure of files, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and the Swiss Federal Criminal Police will be questioning ten persons who took part in voting on the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups as members of the Executive Committee in 2010. These persons should be questioned as persons providing information.”
FIFA Director of Communications and Public Affairs Walter De Gregorio read a statement and answered questions from the media in the hours following the arrests.
“FIFA initiated this process on November 18 last year,” he said. “They lodged a legal complaint with the Federal Attorney, to do with the World Cups 2018 and 2022.
“FIFA welcomes this process and co-operates fully with the Attorney General of Switzerland. In this case FIFA is the damaged party, and this leads to the face there were no searches within the offices of FIFA. We provided the information requested because it is in our highest interests that all questions can be openly answered.
“The general secretary and the president are not involved. As to the names publish in the media I am unable to comment.”
De Gregorio went on to say that Friday’s presidential election will take place as planned and there will be no revote on the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
“This for FIFA is good. I know you don’t believe me. It’s not good in terms of reputation or image, but in terms of cleaning up, it is good,” De Gregorio continued.
“It is not a nice day, but in other ways it is a good day because the process goes on and we’re looking forward to the results. We need the results to stop the speculation.”
In the meantime, here’s an audio broadcast from earlier today with Daniel Feuerstein and Dave Denholm regarding the breaking news:
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