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Swiss police arrest FIFA officials in US corruption probe

STR, AFP | The Hotel Baur au Lac in Zurich where Swiss authorities arrested seven football officials on May 27 on suspicion of corruption

Nine "high-ranking" FIFA officials and five corporate executives are facing charges including racketeering and conspiracy, US officials said Wednesday. Seven suspects were arrested in Switzerland pending extradition to the United States.

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Swiss police arrested seven football officials on suspicion of bribery – including high-ranking members of world governing body FIFA – in an early-morning raid on a Zurich hotel on Wednesday.

The Swiss government said FIFA’s offices were also raided and a number of documents were seized.

Switzerland's Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) released a statement saying the officials were suspected by US investigators of having paid or received bribes totaling millions of dollars since the early 1990s.

“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 (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) and other functionaries of FIFA sub-organizations – totaling more than $100 million,” the FOJ statement said. “In return, it is believed that they received media, marketing, and sponsorship rights in connection with soccer tournaments in Latin America.”

According to the request from US authorities, these payments were agreed to in the United States and carried out via US banks.

US officials said a concurrent search had been conducted at the Miami headquarters of Concacaf, a FIFA-affiliated football governing body for North and Central America and the Caribbean.

'Rampant, systemic' corruption

A statement from the US Department of Justice (DoJ) said the 14 defendants included nine “high-ranking officials” from FIFA – including two current vice presidents – and leading officials from other governing bodies that operate in cooperation with FIFA as well as corporate executives. Jeffrey Webb and Jack Warner, the current and former presidents of Concacaf, were among the officials charged with racketeering and bribery offenses. Other defendants include executives from US and South American sports marketing firms.

The DoJ confirmed that authorities in Zurich had arrested seven of the defendants charged in the US indictment, naming them as Jeffrey Webb, Eduardo Li, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Eugenio Figueredo, Rafael Esquivel and José Maria Marin.

They face charges including racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering.

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

Several officials have already pleaded guilty, the DoJ says. These include Charles Blazer, the former general secretary of Concacaf, who previously served on FIFA's executive committee.

World Cup investigation

The Swiss attorney general also announced that a second investigation had been launched on suspicions of criminal mismanagement and money laundering in connection with the controversial allocation of the 2018 and 2022 football World Cups to Qatar and Russia, respectively.

Blatter has said that "direct political influence" was involved in choosing Qatar, noting that both France and Germany have major economic interests in the Gulf state. But he and other FIFA officials have denied suggestions that Qatar used its oil wealth to buy the hosting rights to the 2018 World Cup.

FIFA launched its own investigation into the corruption allegations and released a redacted version of its report in December.

FIFA spokesman Walter de Gregorio told a press conference on Wednesday that neither FIFA president Sepp Blatter nor general secretary Jerome Valcke were among those detained in the morning raid.

Blatter is remaining "calm" in the face of the allegations and will cooperate fully with the investigation, de Gregorio said.

The arrested officials were staying at the lakeside Baur au Lac Hotel in downtown Zurich ahead of this week's FIFA presidential election, when Blatter is widely expected to win a fifth term.

De Gregorio told reporters that the vote would go ahead as planned.

 

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