World soccer rocked as top officials held in U.S., Swiss graft cases


The world's most popular sport was plunged into turmoil on Wednesday as seven powerful soccer figures were arrested on U.S. corruption charges and faced extradition from Switzerland, whose authorities also announced a criminal investigation into the awarding of the next two World Cups.

The arrests of the senior FIFA officials in a dawn raid at a five-star Zurich hotel mark an unprecedented blow against soccer's powerful governing body, which for years has been dogged by allegations of corruption but always escaped major criminal cases.

U.S. prosecutors said they aimed to make more arrests but would not be drawn on whether FIFA President Sepp Blatter, for long the most powerful man in the sport, was a target of the probe. Blatter, 79, is standing for re-election to a fifth term at the FIFA Congress in Zurich on Friday, and FIFA said the vote would go ahead as planned.

The European soccer body UEFA called for the election to be postponed, saying "the European associations will have to consider carefully if they should even attend this Congress."

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World soccer rocked as top officials held in U.S., Swiss graft cases
Swiss attorney General Michael Lauber attends a press conference on June 17, 2015 in Bern. Swiss authorities are investigating the 2010 FIFA vote that awarded the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
NAGOYA, JAPAN - DECEMBER 07: Chuck Blazer Chairman of the Organising Committee for the FIFA Club World Cup talks to the media during the FIFA Club World Cup Organising Committee Press Conference at Nagoya Marriott Associa Hotel on December 7, 2011 in Nagoya, Japan. (Photo by Shaun Botterill - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
MIAMI BEACH, FL - MAY 27: An FBI agent wearing a mask carries a box from the headquarters of CONCACAF after it was raided on May 27, 2015 in Miami Beach, Florida. The raid is part of an international investigation of FIFA where nine FIFA officials and five corporate executives were charged with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies. (Photo by Joe Skipper/Getty Images)
MIAMI BEACH, FL - MAY 27: FBI agents carry boxes and computers from the headquarters of CONCACAF after it was raided on May 27, 2015 in Miami Beach, Florida. The raid is part of an international investigation of FIFA where nine FIFA officials and five corporate executives were charged with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies. (Photo by Joe Skipper/Getty Images)
MIAMI BEACH, FL - MAY 27: FBI agents carry boxes from the headquarters of CONCACAF after it was raided on May 27, 2015 in Miami Beach, Florida. The raid is part of an international investigation of FIFA where nine FIFA officials and five corporate executives were charged with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies. (Photo by Joe Skipper/Getty Images)
MIAMI BEACH, FL - MAY 27: FBI agents carry boxes from the headquarters of CONCACAF after it was raided on May 27, 2015 in Miami Beach, Florida. The raid is part of an international investigation of FIFA where nine FIFA officials and five corporate executives were charged with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies. (Photo by Joe Skipper/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 27: Attorney General Loretta Lynch speaks at a packed news conference at the U.S. Attorneys Office of the Eastern District of New York following the early morning arrest of world soccer figures, including officials of FIFA, for racketeering, bribery, money laundering and fraud on May 27, 2015 in New York City. The morning arrests took place at a hotel where FIFA members were attending a meeting for the world governing body of soccer (football) in Switzerland. The Justice Department unsealed a 47 count indictment early Wednesday charging 14 world soccer figures. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Costa Rican Football Federation acting President Jorge Hidalgo speaks during a press conference on May 27, 2015, in Lindora, 20 km west of San Jose, about the capture of Costa Rican Football Federation President Eduardo Li and six executives of FIFA in Zurich, Switzerland. AFP PHOTO / Ezequiel BECERRA (Photo credit should read EZEQUIEL BECERRA/AFP/Getty Images)
US Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch announces charges against FIFA officials at a news conference on May 27, 2015 in New York. The soccer officials arrested on Wednesday in an investigation into the FIFA governing body have corrupted the international game, Lynch said Wednesday. She spoke after Swiss authorities acting on the US indictments detained several FIFA leaders in a dawn raid in Zurich as part of a corruption probe that has rocked the sport's governing body. AFP PHOTO/DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
FIFA spokesman Walter De Gregorio arrives to give a press conference at the FIFA headquarters, on May 27, 2015 in Zurich. Swiss police on Wednesday raided a Zurich hotel to detain six top football officials as part of a US investigation into tens of millions of dollars of bribes paid to sport leaders, Swiss authorities and media reports said. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
FIFA spokesman Walter De Gregorio gives a press conference at the FIFA headquarters, on May 27, 2015 in Zurich. Swiss police on Wednesday raided a Zurich hotel to detain six top football officials as part of a US investigation into tens of millions of dollars of bribes paid to sport leaders, Swiss authorities and media reports said. (Photo credit Fabrice Coffrini, AFP/Getty Images)
FIFA spokesman Walter De Gregorio gives a press conference at the FIFA headquarters, on May 27, 2015 in Zurich. Swiss police on Wednesday raided a Zurich hotel to detain six top football officials as part of a US investigation into tens of millions of dollars of bribes paid to sport leaders, Swiss authorities and media reports said. (Photo credit Fabrice Coffrini, AFP/Getty Images)
A staff waits prior to a press conference at the FIFA heaquarters on May 27, 2015 in Zurich. Swiss police on Wednesday raided a Zurich hotel to detain six top football officials as part of a US investigation into tens of millions of dollars of bribes paid to sport leaders, Swiss authorities and media reports said. (Photo credit Fabrice Coffrini, AFP/Getty Images)
FIFA Director of Communications Walter de Gregorio attends a press conference at the FIFA headquarters on May 27, 2015 in Zurich, Switzerland. Swiss police on Wednesday raided a Zurich hotel to detain top FIFA football officials as part of a US investigation. (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)
FIFA Director of Communications Walter de Gregorio reacts during a press conference at the FIFA headquarters on May 27, 2015 in Zurich, Switzerland. Swiss police on Wednesday raided a Zurich hotel to detain top FIFA football officials as part of a US investigation. (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)
A man walks by the headquarters of the international soccer's top body FIFA in Zurich, on May 27, 2015. Swiss police raided the headquarters of FIFA in Zurich, seizing documents and data, the Swiss attorney-general's office said. The raids were part of an investigation already underway into money laundering and fraud involving FIFA's awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively, a statement said. (Photo credit Fabrice Coffrini, AFP/Getty Images)
A cloud is seen above the headquarters of international soccer's top body FIFA, on May 27, 2015 in Zurich. Swiss policeraided a Zurich hotel to detain six top football officials as part of a US investigation into tens of millions of dollars of bribes paid to sport leaders, Swiss authorities and media reports said. (Photo credit Fabrice Coffrini, AFP/Getty Images)
A woman walks by a logo of international soccer's top body FIFA, on May 27, 2015 at the organization's headquarters in Zurich. Swiss policeraided a Zurich hotel to detain six top football officials as part of a US investigation into tens of millions of dollars of bribes paid to sport leaders, Swiss authorities and media reports said. (Photo credit Fabrice Coffrini, AFP/Getty Images)
Media gathers outside the Hotel Baur-au-Lac where Swiss authorities conducted an early morning operation on May 27, 2015 to arrest several top soccer officials and extradite them to the United States on federal corruption charges. FIFA said it was seeking to clarify the situation after six football officials were arrested in Zurich on the request of US authorities, suspected of receiving bribes worth millions of dollars. (Photo credit AFP/Getty Images)
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In scathing indictment of corruption in soccer, U.S. authorities said a total of nine soccer officials and five sports media and promotions executives were charged in cases involving more than $150 million in bribes over a period of 24 years. They said their investigation exposed complex money laundering schemes, millions of dollars in untaxed incomes and tens of millions in offshore accounts held by FIFA officials.

Swiss police arrested the seven FIFA officials - all from the Latin American and Caribbean region - and detained them pending extradition proceedings to the United States, which could take years if they contest the process. The Federal Office of Justice in Switzerland said that six would contest extradition, but that one person agreed to be extradited.

"As charged in the indictment, the defendants fostered a culture of corruption and greed that created an uneven playing field for the biggest sport in the world," said FBI Director James Comey. "Undisclosed and illegal payments, kickbacks, and bribes became a way of doing business at FIFA."

Blatter, who has denied and survived allegations of his involvement in corruption, said in a statement: "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."

The statement also said that FIFA welcomed the actions and the investigations "and believe that it will help to reinforce measures that FIFA has already taken to root out any wrongdoing in football."

Separate from the U.S. investigation, Swiss prosecutors said they had opened their own criminal proceedings against unidentified people on suspicion of mismanagement and money laundering related to the awarding of rights to host the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 event in Qatar.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch told reporters at a news conference in New York her office did not want to impede the 2018 and 2022 World Cups but looked forward to working with Swiss authorities investigating the award of the tournaments.

"FIFA has a lot of soul searching to do," she said.

The indictment accused the officials of using a variety of schemes to take kickbacks and bribes from sports marketing firms connected to major tournaments, and also alleged corruption in the selection of the 2010 World Cup host and the 2011 FIFA presidential election.

One of those indicted, former FIFA Vice President Jack Warner of Trinidad, solicited $10 million in bribes from the South African government to host the 2010 World Cup, the Justice Department said.


Warner directed a number of co-conspirators to arrange the payment, which was eventually sent from a FIFA account in Switzerland to a Bank of America account in New York that Warner controlled, the indictment said.

"THE BEGINNING...NOT THE END"

Warner, former FIFA vice president and executive committee member of CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central America, Caribbean Association Football), said in a statement that he was innocent of any charges. The South African Football Association called the bribe allegations "baseless and untested."

The United States took jurisdiction of the case in part because the Internal Revenue Service and the FBI secured the cooperation of U.S. citizen Chuck Blazer, a former top FIFA official, who U.S. officials said had not paid taxes for years.

Blazer's lawyer, Eric Corngold, declined to comment.

Early Wednesday, FBI agents carrying bags and boxes to execute a search warrant went into the group's office in Miami Beach.

CONCACAF said in a statement it was "deeply concerned by today's developments" and that "the Confederation will continue to cooperate with the authorities to its fullest capacity." Kelly Currie, the acting U.S. attorney in Brooklyn said Wednesday's charges brought in the New York City borough represent "the beginning of our effort, not the end."

In addition to Blazer, 70, others who pleaded guilty were José Hawilla, 71, owner of the Traffic Group, a sports marketing firm founded in Brazil, and two of his companies; Daryan Warner, 46, and Daryll Warner, 40, sons of Jack Warner.

"It is clear that the case is based in large part on some cooperating insiders who have already plead guilty," said Miami lawyer David Weinstein, former prosecutor.

The FIFA officials appeared to have walked into a trap set by U.S. and Swiss authorities. The arrests were made at dawn at a plush Zurich hotel, the Baur au Lac, where FIFA officials are staying before the vote. Suites at the hotel cost up to $4,000 a night.

The arrests could have implications for sponsorship.

The indictment said that in 1996, an unidentified global sports company agreed to pay $160 million over 10 years to become Brazil's exclusive footwear, apparel, accessories, and equipment supplier. That is an apparent reference to Nike, which began sponsoring the Brazil national team in a landmark deal that year.

The indictment said that the company agreed to additional financial terms not in the initial contract. This included paying an additional $40 million to "a Traffic affiliate with a Swiss bank account" and referred to as "marketing fees."


Nike officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

SPONSORSHIP CONSEQUENCES

German sportswear company Adidas, long associated with FIFA, said the soccer body should do more to establish transparent compliance standards. Anheuser-Busch InBev, whose Budweiser brand is a sponsor of the 2018 World Cup, said Wednesday that it is closely monitoring developments at FIFA.

Officials said that following the arrests, accounts at several banks in Switzerland had been blocked.

The officials arrested in Zurich are: Jeffrey Webb, vice-president of world body FIFA, president of North and Central American body CONCACAF and head of soccer in the Cayman Islands; Eduardo Li, who runs Costa Rica's soccer federation; Julio Rocha, who headed Nicaragua's federation; Eugenio Figueredo, another FIFA vice-president who used to run Uruguayan soccer; Rafael Esquivel who is the sport's boss in Venezuela; Jose Maria Marin, who used to be the head of Brazil's federation; and Costas Takkas, another CONCACAF official.

The DoJ said the defendants included U.S. and South American sports marketing executives said to have paid and agreed to pay bribes and kickbacks.

Lynch said in a statement that the charges span "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 international governing body of football collects billions of dollars in revenue, mostly from sponsorship and television rights for World Cups. It has been dogged by reports of corruption which it says it investigates itself.

"The chickens are finally coming home to roost and this sounds like a hugely significant development for FIFA," said Damian Collins, a British member of parliament who founded the reform group New FIFA Now.

FIFA's decision to award the World Cup to Qatar, a tiny desert country with no domestic tradition of soccer, was heavily criticized by soccer officials in Western countries. FIFA was forced to acknowledge that it is too hot to play soccer there in the summer when the tournament is traditionally held, forcing schedules around the globe to be rewritten to move the event.

Qatar's stock market fell sharply as news of the Swiss investigation emerged.
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