Seven FIFA Officials Arrested By Swiss Police

Seven high-profile FIFA officials filed into police cars on Wednesday following an operation conducted by Zurich police. Police raided the Baur au Lac hotel, a five-star establishment overlooking Lake Zurich and serving host to a meeting of the organization’s top leadership. The following officials – several of whom have already pleaded guilty to criminal charges – were arrested for allegedly violating US law: FIFA vice-president Jeffrey Webb, Eduardo Li, Eugenio Figueredo, Rafael Esquivel, Jose Maria Marin, Julio Rocha, and Costas Takkas.

The seven will be extradited to the US to face trial on charges relating to corruption, racketeering, and conspiracy. US Attorney General Loretta Lynch commented that “the indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States. 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.”

Why Extradite to the US?

FIFA is headquartered in Switzerland, the same country where all of the arrests were made. The officials are to be extradited to the United States, however, because the alleged financial crimes were conducted using US bank accounts. Switzerland and the US have an expansive extradition agreement in which the former hands over criminal cases to the latter, sometimes even when it is involved only indirectly.

Also on Wednesday the FBI conducted a raid on Concacaf’s Miami offices (Concacaf is the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football, one of FIFA’s six regional confederations). In addition to being FIFA vice-president, Jeffrey Webb is the head of Concacaf.

The Russian foreign ministry called the US investigation an “illegal extraterritorial application” of US law.

Swiss Government Charges 14

In a separate but parallel action, Swiss authorities opened criminal proceedings against 14 FIFA officials in connection with the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which are to be held in Qatar and Russia, respectively. A statement from the Swiss attorney general affirmed that the suspects are being charged on “suspicion of criminal mismanagement and of money laundering in connection with the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 football World Cups.”

Despite the severity of the allegations, FIFA spokespeople have remained steadfast that the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 games are not to be reopened.

Former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago stands accused of accepting a $10 million bribe from the South African government in connection with that country being awarded the right to host the 2010 World Cup. If convicted on racketeering charges, he and other defendants could face up to 20 years in prison.

Sepp Blatter Not Charged

While the charges come as no surprise to followers of a sport which has seemingly been mired in corruption for decades, what is surprising is that FIFA president Sepp Blatter is not among the accused. The head of FIFA since 1999 – and widely favored to be elected to a fifth term at the helm on 29 May – Blatter has long been suspected of bribe-taking but never charged.

Many find it difficult to believe that Blatter, as president of an organization accused of rampant corruption, has never committed criminal wrongdoing himself. Swiss parliamentarian Roland Buechel quipped that “nothing ever sticks to him; there is always someone between him and the bribes.”

Joseph Larsen

28 May 2015 22:30