FIFA Officials Arrested Amid Corruption Scandal; Could Face U.S Extradition

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Swiss authorities arrested several top FIFA officials early Wednesday morning during an annual meeting at Zurich’s famous Baur au Lac Hotel.

About half a dozen Swiss police dressed in plainclothes arrived at the FIFA meeting unannounced after getting keys from the hotel’s registration desk. The authorities headed to the hotel rooms of the FIFA officials, and Eduardo Li of Costa Rica, was seen being led out through a side door. His luggage was not taken from him at the time.  Li is the President of Costa Rica’s soccer federation.

The charges upon which the FIFA officials have been arraigned include wire fraud, racketeering, money laundering, and bribery, and the organization has been the subject of decades of controversy and investigations. The charges relate to World Cup bids, marketing deals, and broadcast television deals. The group most specifically targeted by authorities has been FIFA’s executive committee, a largely secretive branch of FIFA which holds a large portion of the organization’s power and influence.

In total there have been 14 indictments of FIFA Officials, and the sports-marketing executives from the United States and South America accused of paying them. Among those FIFA officials arrested and indicted include Eduardo Li; FIFA vice-president and the man long seen as Sepp Blatter’s eventual successor Jeffrey Webb; outgoing vice-president Eugenio Figueredo; former CONCACAF President Jack Warner; Nicaraguan soccer official Julio Rocha; Cayman Islands Federation official Costas Takkas; Venezuala’s soccer federation president Rafael Esquivel; former Brazilian federation president and part of the 2014 World Cup bid team and current member of the Rio Olympic Organizing Committee José Maria Marin and former CONMEBOL president Nicolás Leoz.

Others charged include Argentine sports-marketing executive Alejandro Burzaco; chairman of the board of the NASL Aaron Davidson; as well as South American soccer executives Hugo Jinkis and Mariano JinkisJosé Margulies was charged as an intermediary who facilitated illegal payments between the parties.

Additionally, an independent ethics committee working with FIFA has banned eleven individuals from football-related activities. The individuals are Jeffrey Webb, Eduardo Li, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Jack Warner, Eugenio Figueredo, Rafael Esquivel, José Maria Marin, Nicolás Leoz, Chuck Blazer, and Daryll Warner.

American soccer administrator Chuck Blazer has played a key role as an informant during this investigation, helping lead authorities to the arrests of those mentioned above.  U.S. State Department officials have confirmed that Blazer, and three other individuals have entered guilty pleas and agreed to be part of the investigation.  Two sports-marketing organizations have also entered guilty pleas.

In a lengthy statement on their website the FBI set out their investigation in full and Acting U.S. Attorney Kelly T. Currie of the Eastern District of New York said, “Let me be clear: this indictment is not the final chapter in our investigation.”

FIFA, the multi-billion dollar organization and world governing body for the sport of soccer has been the subject of a myriad of foul-play accusations for decades, and this latest development is a major blow to longtime president Sepp Blatter, who was, at least until now, the overwhelming favorite to win Friday’s FIFA presidential election.  Blatter has not been arrested or accused of being involved with the corruption at this time.  He has stated that Friday’s election will go on as planned.

“We’re struck by just how long this went on for and how it touched nearly every part of what FIFA did. 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,” said one law enforcement official related to the case.

The extradition of these officials stems from a part of a treaty between Switzerland and the United States under which the Swiss agree to turn people over to the U.S. on matters of general criminal law.

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 (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) and other functionaries of Fifa sub-organisations – totalling more than $100m.

“In return, it is believed that they received media, marketing, and sponsorship rights in connection with soccer tournaments in Latin America. According to the US request, these crimes were agreed and prepared in the US, and payments were carried out via US banks.”

Law enforcement officials also specified that a large portion of the investigation has to do with CONCACAF, one of FIFA’s six regions, which includes the United States and Mexico .According to the indictment, events that were tainted by bribes and kickbacks involving media and marketing rights included: World Cup qualifiers in the CONCACAF region; the Gold Cup; the CONCACAF Champions League; the Copa América; and the Copa Libertadores. The indictment also alleges that bribes and kickbacks were found in connection with the selection of South Africa as host country for the 2010 World Cup.

In a separate move, Swiss officers raided FIFA headquarters in Zurich, seizing electronic data. They have initiated 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.

Swiss Police will question 10 members of the Fifa executive committee who took part in the World Cup votes. The 10, are all still current members of the committee, including senior vice-president Issa Hayatou of Cameroon and Vitaly Mutko, Russia’s sports minister who is head of the country’s 2018 World Cup organising committee. The others are Angel Maria Villar Llona (Spain), Michel D’Hooghe (Belgium), Senes Erzik (Turkey), Worawi Makudi (Thailand), Marios Lefkaritis (Cyprus), Jacques Anouma (Ivory Coast), Rafael Salguero (Guatemala) and Hany Abo Rida (Egypt).


More to come.

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