US indicts 14 people as Swiss authorities announce criminal investigation into 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids.
by Al Jazeera
Swiss authorities have arrested seven leading FIFA officials in Zurich on racketeering and bribery charges brought by the United States and announced they have opened a criminal case in connection with the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
The arrested officials are among 14 people named in a 47-count indictment that was unsealed in federal court in New York City on Wednesday.
Among those charged in the indictment are FIFA Vice President Jeffrey Webb and Jack Warner – the current and former presidents of CONCACAF (the continental confederation under FIFA headquartered in the US).
The 14 officials and executives were charged with a bribery and kickback scheme that spanned a 24-year period.
The Justice Department revealed that four individuals and two companies have already pleaded guilty, in a case that has rocked football’s world governing body.
“It spans at least two generations of soccer officials who, as alleged, have abused their positions of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks,” US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter was not among the men arrested, FIFA spokesperson Walter de Gregorio confirmed. The governing body’s officials are in Switzerland for the congress as its gets ready to elect its next president.
“The General Secretary and President have not been arrested,” de Gregorio said in a press conference. “FIFA welcomes this process as it initiated it last November, lodging a legal complaint with the federal attorney.”
“The 2018 and 2022 World Cups will be played in Russia and Qatar. One thing [arrests] has nothing to do with the other and the election will take place as planned.”
The US Department of Justice released a statement confirming the intensity of the investigation, saying that the bribes in question mounted to “well over $150m”.
“The defendants also include US and South American sports marketing executives who are alleged to have systematically paid and agreed to pay well over $150m in bribes and kickbacks to obtain lucrative media and marketing rights to international soccer tournaments,” the statement said.
“The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic and deep-rooted, both abroad and here in the United States,” added US Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
World Cup investigation
Separate to the US indictment, the Swiss Office of the Attorney General (OAG) issued a statement saying it has “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”.
The OAG said it has seized data and documents from FIFA’s IT systems on Wednesday as part of its investigation.
“It is suspected that irregularities occurred in the allocation of the FIFA World Cups of 2018 and 2022,” the OAG statement said.
“The OAG and the Swiss Federal Criminal Police will be questioning 10 persons who took part in voting on the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups as members of the Executive Committee in 2010.”
The US is expected to seek extradition of the officials who have been arrested.
Elections still on
FIFA called the arrest a “difficult moment” but said it would not derail President Sepp Blatter’s bid to win a fifth term in an election on Friday.
“It is certainly a difficult moment for us,” added De Gregorio.
“There was never such an idea to postpone the congress nor the election, one thing has nothing to do with the other.”
He said that Blatter was “not dancing in his office” following the arrests but remained “calm” and was prepared to cooperate fully with investigators.