FIFA: U.S. arrests officials; Switzerland opens separate probe
FIFA, the powerful and polarizing governing body for soccer, came under prosecutorial assault on two fronts Wednesday.
Acting on an indictment by the U.S. Justice Department, Swiss police arrested several top FIFA officials, including two vice presidents, during an overnight raid in Zurich on charges of corruption Wednesday.
The U.S. investigation targets alleged wrongdoing that spans 24 years. U.S. prosecutors issued arrest warrants for 14 people, on charges ranging from money laundering to fraud and racketeering. They include FIFA officials who took bribes totaling more than $150 million and in return provided \"lucrative media and marketing rights\" to soccer tournaments as kickbacks.
A few hours later, Swiss authorities said they have opened a separate criminal investigation into FIFA's operations, this one pertaining to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids, which went to Russia and Qatar respectively. Ten people are being questioned.
The criminal proceedings come as members of soccer's scandal-plagued governing body gathered for an election Friday that could give its leader Sepp Blatter a fifth term.
Blatter isn't among those being charged. But he was among those investigated, and officials say that part of the probe continues.
The election will go on as planned, FIFA said -- as will the games in Russia and Qatar.
\"The timing may not obviously be the best, but FIFA welcomes the process,\" FIFA spokesman Walter De Gregorio told reporters. He acknowleged the investigations but didn't comment on them.
THE U.S. INVESTIGATION
The indictment, said U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, \"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.\"
One of the highest ranking official charged in the U.S. is Jeffrey Webb, a FIFA vice president and head of CONCACAF, the FIFA-affiliated governing body for North America and the Caribbean.
Other officials include: Jack Warner, former FIFA vice president and executive committee member; Eugenio Figueredo, FIFA vice president and executive committee member; and Nicolás Leoz, former FIFA executive committee member.
Several sports-marketing executives are also charged.
The Swiss Federal Office of Justice said the suspects accepted bribes and kickbacks totaling more than $150 million, from the early 1990s until now.
In return, they provided media, marketing and sponsorship rights to soccer matches in Latin America, the Swiss Office of Justice said.
The charges are a result of a three-year FBI investigation. In addition to the 14 who have been charged, four others have already pleaded guilty: four former FIFA officials and a sports marketing executive.
Lynch has scheduled a news conference for 10:30 a.m. in New York.
The reason why the United States brought charges against the suspects is because the plots were allegedly hatched on American soil.
\"According to U.S. request, these crimes were agreed and prepared in the U.S., and payments were carried out via U.S. banks,\" the Swiss Office of Justice said.
THE SWISS INVESTIGATION
FIFA has been at the center of corruption investigations for years. But the organization has long dismissed allegations that top officials were on the take.
In December, FIFA's ethics committee said it was closing its investigation into alleged corruption in the 2018 and 2022 bidding process that awarded the World Cup to Russia and Qatar, respectively. Criticism immediately followed. There were allegations of corruption in the bidding process. Qatar's oppressive heat also drew ridicule as did its labor rights record.
FIFA said its investigation found no corruption and it has no reason to reopen the bidding process.
In 2011, the FIFA banned for life Mohamed bin Hammam, a Qatari member of its top governing body, for ethics violations.
On Wednesday, Swiss authorities said have opened a criminal investigation into FIFA's operations pertaining to the 2018 and 2022 bids.
The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland said it is looking into criminal mismanagement and money laundering.
\"The files seized today and the collected bank documents will serve criminal proceedings both in Switzerland and abroad,\" a statement from the attorney general's office said.
According to the statement, Swiss Federal Criminal Police will be questioning 10 people who took part in the voting when the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were awarded.
Swiss officials say they are working closely with U.S. authorities, but the investigations are separate ones.
Part of the issue for U.S. authorities is establishing U.S. legal jurisdiction for alleged crimes that largely occurred outside the United States.
However, prosecutors believe the broad reach of U.S. tax and banking regulations aid their ability to bring the charges.
In addition, U.S. authorities claim jurisdiction because the American television market, and billions paid by U.S. networks, is the largest for the World Cup.
\"Today's announcement should send a message that enough is enough,\" said Acting U.S. Attorney Currie. \"After decades of what the indictment alleges to be brazen corruption, organized international soccer needs a new start.
\"Let me be clear: this indictment is not the final chapter in our investigation.\"
True to their words, authorities were executing a search warrant at the CONCACAF headquarters in Miami on Wednesday morning.
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