World soccer rocked by U.S., Swiss arrests of officials for graft

Wed May 27, 2015 5:38pm EDT
 
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By Mike Collett, Brian Homewood and Nate Raymond

ZURICH/NEW YORK (Reuters) - The world's most popular sport was plunged into turmoil on Wednesday as seven senior soccer officials were arrested on U.S. corruption charges and faced extradition from Switzerland, whose authorities also announced a criminal investigation into the awarding of the next two World Cups.

The arrests in a dawn raid at a five-star Zurich hotel mark an unprecedented blow against soccer's governing body FIFA, which for years has been dogged by allegations of corruption but always escaped major criminal cases.

U.S. prosecutors said they aimed to make more arrests but would not be drawn on whether FIFA President Sepp Blatter, for long the most powerful man in the sport, was a target of the probe. Blatter, 79, is standing for re-election to a fifth term at the FIFA Congress in Zurich on Friday, and FIFA said the vote would go ahead as planned.

The European soccer body UEFA called for the election to be postponed, saying "the European associations will have to consider carefully if they should even attend this Congress."

In a scathing indictment of corruption in soccer, U.S. authorities said nine officials and five sports media and promotions executives were charged in cases involving more than $150 million in bribes over a period of 24 years. They said their investigation exposed complex money laundering schemes, millions of dollars in untaxed incomes and tens of millions in offshore accounts held by FIFA officials.

Swiss police arrested the seven, all from the Latin American and Caribbean region, and detained them pending extradition proceedings to the United States, which could take years if they contest the process. The Federal Office of Justice in Switzerland said that six would contest extradition, but that one person agreed to be extradited.

"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 Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey. "Undisclosed and illegal payments, kickbacks, and bribes became a way of doing business at FIFA."

Blatter, who has denied and survived allegations of his involvement in corruption, said in a statement: "Let me be clear: such misconduct has no place in football and we will ensure that those who engage in it are put out of the game."   Continued...

 
A combination photo shows eight of the nine football officials indicted for corruption charges in these file photos. From L-R: (top row) then President of the Brazilian Football Confederation Jose Maria Marin, President of the Venezuelan Football Federation Rafael Esquivel, President of Costa Rica's Football Federation Eduardo Li, then President of South American Football Confederation CONMEBOL Nicolas Leoz, (bottom row) then President of the Nicaraguan Football Federation Julio Rocha, then Acting President of CONMEBOL Eugenio Figueredo, then FIFA Executive member Jack Warner, and President of Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football CONCACAF Jeffery Webb. Seven of the most powerful figures in global soccer faced extradition to the United States on corruption charges after being arrested on May 27, 2015, in Switzerland, where authorities also announced a criminal investigation into the awarding of the next two World Cups. The U.S. Department of Justice named those arrested in its case as: Webb, Li, Rocha, Costas Takkas, Figueredo, Esquivel and Marin. U.S. authorities said nine football officials, including Warner and Leoz, and five sports media and promotions executives faced corruption charges involving more than $150 million in bribes.  REUTERS/Staff/Files