FIFA reels from arrests in corruption probe

US seeks extradition of seven officials of football’s governing body held in Zurich as part of double investigation.

The US is seeking to extradite seven officials of FIFA, world football’s governing body, who have been arrested in Switzerland for conspiracy and corruption.

The officials, arrested by Swiss authorities in Zurich on Wednesday, are among 14 people named in a 47-count indictment that was unsealed in federal court in New York City.

The arrested include a Jeffrey Webb, FIFA vice-president, and Jack Warner, a former FIFA vice-president.

The 14 officials and executives were charged over a bribery and kickback scheme involving $150m that spanned a 24-year period.

Why are FIFA arrests happening now?

The officials were in Zurich for the FIFA Congress, which is scheduled to elect a new president on Friday.

FIFA has confirmed that Sepp Blatter, the current president who is seeking a fifth term in the office, has not been arrested.

“FIFA executives and others corrupted the process, they did this over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament,” Loretta Lynch, US attorney general, announced at a news conference in New York on Wednesday.

US officials revealed that the 2010 World Cup, the first time Africa hosted the global event, was awarded to South Africa based on bribes received by some FIFA officials.

Separate from the US indictment, the Swiss Office of the Attorney General (OAG) issued a statement on Wednesday saying it had “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”.

Documents seized

OAG said it had seized data and documents from FIFA’s IT systems 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.”

Blatter has been FIFA's president since 1998 [Getty Images]
Blatter has been FIFA’s president since 1998 [Getty Images]

However, a FIFA spokesperson maintained on Wednesday that the two World Cups were scheduled to go ahead as planned – in Russia and Qatar.

Last November, just hours after a FIFA judge cleared Russia and Qatar of corruption in their winning World Cup bids, American lawyer Michael Garcia, who led the investigation, said he would appeal the decision to close the case because it was based on “materially incomplete and erroneous” information.

FIFA confirmed after Wednesday’s arrests that the meeting in Zurich and the elections would go ahead as planned.

Blatter is widely tipped to be re-elected.

FIFA responds
– FIFA initiated this process last November when it lodged a legal complaint with the federal attorney and handed over the Garcia report.
– FIFA welcomes this process. It is the damaged body. But there were no searches within its offices. 
– The Congress and the elections will take place.
– The 2018 and 2022 World Cups will be held in Russia and Qatar. 
– This is not good in terms of the image of the organisation but in terms of the cleaning up act, this is good. It’s a nice day. 
– Those arrested will not be suspended because they have not been convicted yet.
Walter de Gregorio – FIFA Director of Communications and Public Affairs

Jordan’s Prince Ali al-Hussein is the only person standing against Blatter following the late withdrawal of Portugal’s Luis Figo and Dutch Michael van Praag.

“One thing [arrests] has nothing to do with the other and the election will take place as planned,” Walter de Gregorio, FIFA spokesperson, said.

He called the arrests a “difficult moment” but said it would not derail Blatter’s re-election bid.

He said that Blatter was “not dancing in his office” following the arrests but remained “calm” and was prepared to cooperate fully with investigators.

Gregorio confirmed that while “it was a difficult moment” for football’s governing body and that it was “the damaged party”, FIFA welcomed the investigation process and would cooperate fully with the authorities.

“FIFA initiated this process last November when it lodged a complaint with the federal attorney,” Gregorio said.

“We provided all the information requested by them, including the Garcia report, as this is all in our own interest.

“FIFA is suffering under the circumstances and it’s certainly a difficult moment for us.”

In New York, meanwhile, Kelly Currie, the acting US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, confirmed that it was “the beginning of our efforts, not the end”.

“This sort of bribery in football has been going on for decades,” he said.

“Jeffery Webb used his position in various roles, a position of trust to solicit and collect bribe from sports marketing executives who needed his support to get contracts.”

Lynch, the US attorney general, said that extradition of the defendants to the US will be the next step, adding that the authorities were “trying to apprehend the remaining defendants”.

Lynch confirmed on Wednesday in New York that authorities were trying to apprehend remaining defendants [Getty Images]
Lynch confirmed on Wednesday in New York that authorities were trying to apprehend remaining defendants [Getty Images]
Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies