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Top FIFA Officials Arrested On Suspicion Of Corruption

Nine FIFA officials and five corporate executives were indicted for corruption by the U.S. Department of Justice Wednesday.

Last updated on May 27, 2015, at 12:36 a.m. ET

Posted on May 27, 2015, at 12:36 a.m. ET

Fabrice Coffrini / Getty Images
  • Nine FIFA officials and five corporate executives were indicted for corruption by the U.S. Department of Justice Wednesday.
  • Seven current and former FIFA officials were arrested early Wednesday at a hotel in Zurich, Switzerland. They are expected to be extradited to the U.S.
  • Four additional people and two corporations were charged and previously pleaded guilty, details of those charges were unsealed Wednesday.
  • Wednesday's arrests are the culmination of a three-year investigation by the FBI.
  • No charges have been brought against FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
  • U.S. officials have 40 days to extradite those arrested in Switzerland.
  • All 14 indicted face charges of racketeering, conspiracy, and corruption.
  • The arrests and corruption revelations came to light just days before FIFA's presidential vote on Friday, at which incumbent Blatter is expected to be re-elected for a fifth term in office.

Updates

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FIFA President Joseph "Sepp" Blatter speaks to journalists in Zurich on Friday.
Ennio Leanza / AP

FIFA President Joseph "Sepp" Blatter speaks to journalists in Zurich on Friday.

The soccer world was rocked early Wednesday when Swiss police rounded up several FIFA officials accused of taking part in a massive corruption scandal, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Nine FIFA officials and five corporate executives face charges of racketeering, conspiracy, and corruption for their "participation in a 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer," according to the 47-count indictment unsealed Wednesday. In addition to those indicted, four individuals and two companies previously pleaded guilty to charges.

"They were expected to uphold the rules that keep soccer honest, and protect the integrity of the game," Attorney General Loretta Lynch told reporters Wednesday morning in New York City. "Instead, they corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their interests and enrich themselves."

Further charges may be brought against other officials as the investigation continues, officials said.

Swiss police arrested seven of the FIFA officials in Zurich early Wednesday. At least some of the arrests took place at the five-star Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich, where officials were gathering ahead of the organization's presidential vote on Friday. The officials were detained pending extradition, and authorities in Switzerland said they were acting in coordination with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York.

The arrests came at the request of the U.S. Justice Department and are the result of a three-year FBI investigation.

"This is the World Cup of fraud and today we are issuing FIFA a red card," Chief Richard Weber of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation told reporters.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch addresses reporters in Brooklyn, New York, on Wednesday.
Mark Lennihan / AP

Attorney General Loretta Lynch addresses reporters in Brooklyn, New York, on Wednesday.

According to the DOJ, all of the defendants were facing charges of racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering conspiracies, among other offenses.

"The indictment alleges corruption is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States," Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement.

"After decades of what the indictment alleges to be brazen corruption, organized international soccer needs a new start — a new chance for its governing institutions to provide honest oversight and support of a sport that is beloved across the world, increasingly so here in the United States," Lynch said.

Under American law, federal officials have the power to bring charges against foreigners abroad if there is a connection to the United States. Lynch alleged those charged "abused the U.S. financial system and violated U.S. law."

"They did this over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament," she said.

Swiss officials also said their American counterparts had good reason to pursue the case. "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 told CNN.

A statement on the Russian Foreign Ministry website criticized the U.S. government for "extraterritorial use" of domestic law.

"Once again we are calling on Washington to stop attempts to make justice far beyond its borders using its legal norms and to follow the generally accepted international legal procedures," the statement read.

The DOJ indictment also alleged FIFA's 2011 presidential election was marred by corruption and bribery, and that this illegal behavior extended to a sponsorship agreement between Brazil's national team and a "major U.S. sportswear company." The company was not named directly in the indictment.

In a statement, Brazil's national soccer federation said it "fully supports the investigation" and "reaffirms its commitment to truth and transparency."

Also on Wednesday morning, DOJ officials searched the premises of the Central America and Caribbean football federation (CONCACAF) in Miami, Florida.

FBI agents prepare to enter the offices the soccer federation that governs North America, Central America, and the Caribbean in Miami Beach, Florida.
Gaston De Cardenas / Reuters

FBI agents prepare to enter the offices the soccer federation that governs North America, Central America, and the Caribbean in Miami Beach, Florida.

In a separate development, the Office of the Swiss Attorney General has opened criminal proceedings against FIFA on suspicion of "criminal management" and "money laundering" regarding the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which will take place in Russia and Qatar respectively.

Wednesday's raid took place ahead of Friday's vote to elect a new president for the governing body of world soccer. Joseph "Sepp" Blatter, the incumbent, is widely expected to be re-elected for a fifth term, despite a series of corruption investigations and allegations which have tarnished FIFA's image.

Describing Wednesday's events as "a disaster for FIFA...[that] tarnish the image of football as a whole," Europe's soccer governing body, UEFA, called for the presidential vote to be postponed in order to ensure a "change of leadership."

"These events show, once again, that corruption is deeply rooted in FIFA's culture," UEFA's executive committee said in a statement.

When asked on Wednesday about possible charges being brought against Blatter, Lynch refused to comment on "the status of any individual who wasn't named [in the indictment]," but did warn the investigation would continue.

"Going forward, we welcome the opportunity to work with our partners around the world to bring additional co-conspirators and other corrupt individuals to justice," she said.

The Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich, Switzerland, on Wednesday.
Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters

The Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich, Switzerland, on Wednesday.

Blatter released the following statement on Wednesday on what he said was a "difficult time for football:"

"This is a difficult time for football, the fans and for FIFA as an organization. We understand the disappointment that many have expressed and I know that the events of today will impact the way in which many people view us.

As unfortunate as these events are, it should be clear that we welcome the actions and the investigations by the US and Swiss authorities and believe that it will help to reinforce measures that FIFA has already taken to root out any wrongdoing in football.

While there will be many who are frustrated with the pace of change, I would like to stress the actions that we have taken and will continue to take. In fact, today's action by the Swiss Office of the Attorney General was set in motion when we submitted a dossier to the Swiss authorities late last year.

Let me be clear: such misconduct has no place in football and we will ensure that those who engage in it are put out of the game. Following the events of today, the independent Ethics Committee – which is in the midst of its own proceedings regarding the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups -- took swift action to provisionally ban those individuals named by the authorities from any football-related activities at the national and international level. These actions are on top of similar steps that FIFA has taken over the past year to exclude any members who violate our own Code of Ethics.

We will continue to work with the relevant authorities and we will work vigorously within FIFA in order to root out any misconduct, to regain your trust and ensure that football worldwide is free from wrongdoing."

Picture of plainclothes Swiss police showing documents to FIFA hotel clerk:

Among those taken away by police on Wednesday was one of FIFA's eight vice presidents, Jeffrey Webb, who is also head of the North America, Central America, and Caribbean football federation.

FIFA's director of communications, Walter De Gregorio, pointed out at a news conference in Zurich on Wednesday that Blatter was not among those indicted.

Gregorio also said the latest scandal, while bad for FIFA's reputation, is actually "a good thing" for soccer's governing body, as it shows the organization is on "the right track."

Eugenio Figueredo, from the Uruguayan Football Federation, and Jack Warner, a former member of the executive committee, were also indicted.

Also on the DOJ's list are:

*Eduardo Li, current FIFA executive committee member-elect, CONCACAF executive committee member, and Costa Rican soccer federation (FEDEFUT) president; * Julio Rocha, current FIFA development officer, former Central American Football Union (UNCAF) president and Nicaraguan soccer federation (FENIFUT) president; * Costas Takkas, current attaché to the CONCACAF president and former CIFA general secretary; * Rafael Esquivel, current CONMEBOL executive committee member and Venezuelan soccer federation (FVF) president; * José Maria Marin, current member of the FIFA organizing committee for the Olympic football tournaments and former president of the Brazilian soccer federation; * Nicolás Leoz, former FIFA executive committee member and CONMEBOL president; * Alejandro Burzaco, controlling principal of Torneos y Competencias S.A., a sports marketing business based in Argentina, and its affiliates; * Aaron Davidson, president of Traffic Sports USA Inc. (Traffic USA); * Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, controlling principals of Full Play Group S.A., a sports marketing business based in Argentina, and its affiliates; *José Margulies, controlling principal of Valente Corp. and Somerton Ltd.

According to the DOJ, the defendants also include U.S. and South American marketing executives accused of having paid an estimated $150 million in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for lucrative media rights to international soccer tournaments.

In addition to the 14 indicted, the four individuals and two companies that previously pleaded guilty were:

  • Charles Blazer, the long-serving former general secretary of CONCACAF and former U.S. representative on the FIFA executive committee, pleaded guilty on Nov. 25, 2013.
  • José Hawilla, the owner and founder of the Traffic Group, a multinational sports marketing conglomerate headquartered in Brazil, pleaded guilty on Dec. 12, 2014.
  • Daryll Warner, whose father Jack is also facing corruption charges, pleaded guilty on July 15, 2013, to a two-count information charging him with wire fraud and the structuring of financial transactions. If convicted he could be sentenced up to 10 years in prison as well having to pay a $500,000 fine.
  • Daryan Warner, another of Jack's sons, pleaded guilty on Oct. 25, 2013. He forfeited more than $1.1 million and will pay an additional sum when he's sentenced.
  • Two of Hawilla's companies, Traffic Sports International Inc. and Traffic Sports USA Inc., which is based in Florida, pleaded guilty on May 14, 2015.

After the charges were announced, FIFA's Ethics Committee "provisionally banned" 11 current or former organization officials from "carrying out any football-related activities on a national and international level."

Those banned by FIFA's Ethics Committee were Webb, Li, Rocha, Takkas, Figueredo, Esquivel, Marin, Leoz, Blazer, and Jack and Daryll Warner.

"The charges are clearly related to football and are of such a serious nature that it was imperative to take swift and immediate action," said Ethics Committee Chairman Hans-Joachim Eckert said in a statement.

AG Lynch: Arrested FIFA officials corrupted soccer to serve their interests, enrich themselves http://t.co/V0oIz5rm0E

FIFA has long been plagued by corruption allegations, though officials have routinely dismissed the claims. The announcement that Qatar would host the 2022 World Cup drew particularly harsh criticism.

"FIFA's official motto is 'For the game, for the world,'" Weber, with the IRS, told reporters. "But the conspirators in this case corrupted the game for the sole purpose of personal gain — not for the game and certainly not for the world."

Alexandra Wrage, a corporate governance consultant who resigned from a FIFA committee designed to clean up the organization in April 2013, told BuzzFeed News the governing body had been corrupt for years.

"It's really time for FIFA to draw a line and put this era of corruption behind them," she said. "Shoddy governance, widespread misconduct, and now clearly illegal conduct cannot continue — and neither can those who have presided over it."

In a statement, the U.S. Soccer Federation called on CONCACAF and FIFA to promote the values of the "highest ethical standards and business practices."

Acting U.S. Attorney Kelly T. Currie, with the Eastern District of New York, said on Wednesday he hopes the latest probe into FIFA's dealings will mark a new dawn for the way world soccer is run.

"After decades of what the indictment alleges to be brazen corruption, organized international soccer needs a new start — a new chance for its governing institutions to provide honest oversight and support of a sport that is beloved across the world, increasingly so here in the United States," he said. "Let me be clear: This indictment is not the final chapter in our investigation."

Read the indictment:

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