Update as of 5:50 a.m. EDT: Reiterating that FIFA President Sepp Blatter is not involved in the corruption scandal that has rocked the governing body of world soccer, a spokesman for the organization said that there are “no plans” to postpone Friday’s presidential elections. Blatter, a longtime president of the organization, is widely expected to be elected for a fifth term.
“Of course, Congress will take place. One thing has nothing whatsoever to do with the other,” FIFA spokesman Walter de Gregorio reportedly said, during a press conference in Zurich on Wednesday. He also added that the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, scheduled to be held in Russia and Qatar respectively, will go ahead as planned.
“Russia and Qatar will be played, this is fact today. I can't go into speculation about what will happen tomorrow,” de Gregorio reportedly said. “This for FIFA is good. It is not good in terms of image or reputation, but in terms of cleaning up, this is good … It is not a nice day, but it is also a good day,” he added.
Update as of 5:20 a.m. EDT: Fourteen people, including two current FIFA vice presidents and the current and former presidents of the Concacaf -- one of the six regional confederations that compose FIFA -- have been named in an indictment unsealed early Wednesday at the federal court in Brooklyn, New York.
“The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said, in a statement. “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. … Today’s action makes clear that this Department of Justice intends to end any such corrupt practices, to root out misconduct, and to bring wrongdoers to justice.”
The defendants named also include U.S. and South American sports marketing executives who are accused of having paid and agreed to pay over $150 million in bribes to obtain media and marketing rights to international soccer tournaments over the span of the last 24 years. Nine of those indicted are FIFA officials, while five are corporate executives. Pleas for four individual defendants and two corporate defendants, who previously pleaded guilty, were also unsealed, according to the statement.
Of the 14, seven were arrested by Swiss authorities during an early morning raid at a hotel in Zurich. Swiss authorities had earlier said that six people were arrested during the raid. Meanwhile, a search warrant is also being executed at Concacaf headquarters in Miami, Florida.
Update as of 4:50 a.m. EDT: In another major blow to FIFA, Swiss authorities announced that they have raided the organization’s headquarters in Zurich, seized electronic data and 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.”
This probe is independent of the one being carried out by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York, which is conducting a criminal investigation into the allocation of media, marketing and sponsoring rights for football tournaments carried out in the United States and Latin America. Six senior soccer officials, including one FIFA vice president, held during early morning raids at a hotel in Zurich were arrested for their alleged involvement in this particular case, and would be extradited to the U.S. for prosecution.
“Subsequently to today’s seizure of files, 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 Swiss Attorney General’s office said, in a statement released Wednesday.
Update as of 2:45 a.m. EDT: Jeffrey Webb, president of Concacaf -- one of the six regional confederations that compose FIFA -- and the vice president of FIFA, is among six people arrested in early morning raids in Zurich, according to media reports. He is also among the 14 people against whom charges have been filed, the New York Times reported.
Charges are also expected against several executives of sports marketing firms accused of giving bribes to secure media, marketing and sponsorship rights, the Times reported, citing an unnamed government official.
Meanwhile, Switzerland's justice ministry also reportedly emphasized that the arrests were related to corruption charges over tournaments across the U.S. and Latin America, and were not connected to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments scheduled to be held in Russia and Qatar respectively.
Update as of 2:00 a.m. EDT: The Swiss Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) announced, in a statement released Wednesday, that police have arrested six “soccer officials” suspected of accepting bribes from the early 1990s onwards.
“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 USD 100 million,” the FOJ said, in the statement. In exchange for these bribes, it is believed that these organizations received media, marketing and sponsorship rights for soccer tournaments held in Latin America. And, according to the statement, payments for these bribes were carried out through American banks.
The United States now has 40 days to submit a formal extradition request, under its bilateral extradition treaty with Switzerland. FIFA is yet to respond to the arrests, the BBC reported.
Several senior officials of FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, were arrested in a surprise operation by Swiss authorities in Zurich early on Wednesday. The officials will now be extradited to the United States where authorities are reportedly preparing an indictment against them on charges of wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering.
The arrests were made as FIFA’s national member associations were gathering for the group’s presidential election at the Baur au Lac hotel, according to media reports. The arrests, reportedly made at the request of the U.S. Justice Department, come just days ahead of the organization’s presidential elections, scheduled for Friday. The organization's executive committee has been accused by critics of lacking transparency and operating with overarching powers.
“We’re struck by just how long this went on for and how it touched nearly every part of what FIFA did,” a law enforcement official, whose name was not revealed, told the New York Times. “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.”
According to the Times, Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands, a vice president of the executive committee; Eugenio Figueredo of Uruguay, an executive committee vice president and former president of South America’s soccer association; and Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago, a former member of the executive committee, are among those who will be charged by the U.S.
Sepp Blatter, who has been the longtime president of the organization plagued with accusations of bribery and corruption, is expected to be elected for a fifth term. Earlier this week, Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona hit out against Blatter for his “years of unethical patronage, favors and handouts.”
“Under Sepp Blatter, Fifa has become a disgrace and a painful embarrassment to those of us who care about football deeply,” Maradona wrote in a column for the Telegraph.
The organization has also been heavily criticized for its role in the bidding processes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments, to be held in Russia and Qatar respectively. While there are allegations of bribery surrounding the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, many have also criticized FIFA’s decision to allow Russia to host the 2018 World Cup.
“In light of President Blatter’s continued support for Russia hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup -- despite Russia’s ongoing violations of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and other challenges to the post-WWII security architecture -- we ask that you reconsider your support for President Blatter’s fifth term as Fifa President,” U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and John McCain (R- Ariz.), wrote, in a letter addressed to the FIFA Congress.
While the identities of those arrested in the early morning raids in Zurich have not yet been revealed, Blatter is not believed to be among those held. Later on Wednesday, more than 10 people are expected to be charged in an indictment in federal court in Brooklyn, New York. The charges are reportedly the result of a three-year-long investigation by the FBI.