Soccer officials arrested in Zurich; World Cup votes probed
ZURICH (AP and KTVU) -- The corruption investigation into FIFA, world soccer's governing body, has expanded as Swiss prosecutors open their own probe into allegations of bribery, money-laundering, and other corruption in the highest echelons of FIFA and its subsidiary organizations.
The Swiss announcement came only hours after U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch unsealed an indictment in a New York federal court, that charged 14 people with 47 counts of corruption. Seven of them were arrested and detained by Swiss police at the request of U.S. authorities after a raid at a luxury hotel in Zurich Wednesday morning. A separate raid in Miami, Florida was executed by the FBI and other federal officials who searched CONCACAF headquarters, FIFA's North and Central American arm.
The Swiss prosecutors' office said in a statement they seized "electronic data and documents" at FIFA's headquarters on Wednesday as part of their probe into whether corruption was involved in FIFA's awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Swiss police said they will question 10 FIFA executive committee members who took part in the World Cup votes in December 2010.
FIFA ruled out a re-vote of the World Cups won by Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022.
"FIFA is fully cooperating with the investigation and is supporting the collection of evidence in this regard," FIFA said in a statement.
The Swiss investigation against "persons unknown on suspicion of criminal mismanagement and of money laundering" again throws into the doubt the integrity of the voting.
The U.S. Department of Justice says U.S. banks allegedly were used to funnel millions of dollars in bribe money to soccer officials.
Two current FIFA vice presidents were among those arrested and indicted, Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands and Eugenio Figueredo of Uruguay. The others are Eduardo Li of Costa Rica, Julio Rocha of Nicaragua, Costas Takkas of Britain, Rafael Esquivel of Venezuela and Jose Maria Marin of Brazil.
All seven are connected with the regional confederations of North and South America and face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
"The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States," Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said, "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."
The Swiss justice ministry said six of the seven officials arrested oppose extradition to the United States, adding that U.S. authorities now have 40 days to submit the formal extradition request.
One of those detained, who was unidentified, agreed to "a simplified extradition procedure," meaning he can be sent to the U.S. in the coming days.
Nine of the 14 that were indicted by the Justice Department are soccer officials. Five sports marketing and media executives including American Aaron Davidson are accused of kicking-in more than $150 million dollars in bribes and kickbacks to win highly profitable media and marketing rights for fifa soccer tournaments.
One alleged scheme involved South Africa's bid process for the 2010 World Cup. Jack Warner, a former FIFA vice president from Trinidad and Tobago, is accused of accepting millions of dollars in bribe money to help South Africa win the bid.
`Well, nobody in the U.S. has ever interviewed me or asked me any question," Warner said in an interview before turning himself in to authorities, "Someone is innocent until proven guilty, and that hasn't changed."
The votes to award the World Cups to Russia and Qatar have been surrounded in controversy and accusations of corruption.
Qatar, a tiny Gulf nation with little soccer tradition, was criticized from the start for its extreme summer heat. FIFA has since been forced to move the tournament to November-December instead of the usual June-July time slot.
FIFA also hired U.S. attorney Michael Garcia to investigate the 2018 and 2022 bid process. His findings were never fully released and both Russia and Qatar were confirmed as hosts. Garcia's full report was turned over to Swiss authorities in November, prompting Wednesday's raid on FIFA headquarters.
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, who is also a FIFA executive committee member, told The Associated Press "we've got nothing to hide."
"We're prepared to show everything," Mutko said in a telephone interview. "We've always acted within the law."
Qatari soccer officials declined to comment.
Dozens of soccer officials are in Switzerland for the FIFA congress and presidential election, where Blatter is widely expected to win re-election at the helm of the governing body of world soccer.
Blatter had been scheduled to attend a meeting of the Confederation of African Football in a different downtown Zurich hotel, but he canceled his appearance. He later canceled his plans to attend a meeting of the South American confederation.
Blatter's only opponent in Friday's presidential election, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, seized on the situation to push his candidacy.
"We cannot continue with the crisis in FIFA, a crisis that has been ongoing and is not just relevant to the events of today," Prince Ali said in a statement. "FIFA needs leadership that governs, guides and protects our national associations. ... Leadership that restores confidence in the hundreds of millions of football fans around the world."
The arrests were made at the lakeside Baur au Lac Hotel in downtown Zurich, long favored as a place for senior FIFA officials to stay. It was the stage for intense lobbying for votes ahead of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting decisions.
The North American regional body CONCACAF, reported itself to U.S. tax authorities in 2012. Then based in New York, the organization had not paid taxes over several years when its president was Warner and secretary general was Chuck Blazer of the United States.
Warner left soccer in 2011 to avoid FIFA sanctions in a bribery scandal during that year's presidential election. Blazer left in 2013 and has pleaded guilty to charges, the Justice Department said in Wednesday's statement.
Warner's successor as CONCACAF leader and FIFA vice president is Webb, who was staying at the Baur au Lac this week.
The Swiss Federal Office of Justice said in its statement that U.S. authorities suspect the arrested officials of having received or paid bribes totaling millions of dollars and that the crimes were agreed to and prepared in the U.S., and payments carried out via U.S. banks.
"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 (FIFA delegates) and other functionaries of FIFA sub-organizations - totaling more than USD 100 million," the FOJ statement said.
In the aftermath of the indictment a FIFA spokesman Walter De Gregorio said world soccer will emerge stronger.
"This for FIFA is good. It's not good in terms of image. It's not good in terms of reputation. But in terms of cleaning up...this is good," De Gregorio said.