US, Swiss timed FIFA raids for maximum effect

Blatter Sends Apologies for Absence from FIFA Medical Conference

BERN, Switzerland (AP) — For months, American and Swiss investigators worked in secret to prepare for the raids that would shake the soccer world.

They knew that the moment to strike would come when FIFA, the sport's governing body, held its annual congress in Zurich, gathering all of its top officials — including the main suspects in a far-reaching U.S. corruption probe.

Any leak could have given the game away, allowing international soccer officials to scramble out of Switzerland or time to destroy important evidence before authorities could seize it.

"It was a months-long planning. It was quite intense to try to find out what is the best moment," Andre Marty, spokesman for the Swiss attorney general's office, told The Associated Press late Wednesday, hours after he raids. "It was exactly today that most of the people of interest to the U.S. investigation and to the Swiss investigation are still in Switzerland."

The dual investigations have shaken FIFA, which has been dogged by corruption claims. FIFA president Sepp Blatter has sought to manage the allegations, going so far as to file a criminal complaint against "unknown persons" last November. That move followed then-FIFA ethics prosecutor Michael Garcia's protest at how FIFA handled his investigation into wrongdoing during the votes to host of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup — which went to Russia and Qatar.

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US, Swiss timed FIFA raids for maximum effect
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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Marty insisted that FIFA wasn't tipped off that law enforcement officials would strike on Wednesday, conducting dawn arrests at the luxury Baur au Lac Hotel and raiding FIFA's Zurich headquarters to seize electronic and paper documents.

"It was quite important to have this coordination between the arrests on the one side for the American procedure, and the other side to get into FIFA and get all of the interesting data and information that we are looking for," he said.

For their part, Swiss prosecutors decided to act after the complaint from FIFA was backed up by what Marty described as "rather interesting bank documents" that investigators had obtained in recent months.

"This led to the fact that we were convinced that we have to proceed with these criminal procedures," he told the AP.

Prosecutors planned on Thursday to interview 10 members of the FIFA executive committee who were already members in 2010, when the vote on who was to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups occurred, he said. Marty declined to name them, but a review of the FIFA executive committee members present in 2010 and now produces 10 names: Michel D'Hooghe of Belgium, Jacques Anouma of Ivory Coast, Marios Lefkaritis of Cyprus, Angel Maria Villar of Spain, Senes Erzik of Turkey, Worawi Makudi of Thailand, Issa Hayatou of Cameroon, Hany Abo Rida of Egypt, Vitaly Mutko of Russia and Rafael Salguero of Guatemala.

Meanwhile, U.S. prosecutors are going after 14 people — nine current and former FIFA officials, four sports marketing executives and an accused intermediary — in corruption allegations spanning more than two decades and involving sums in excess of $100 million. Seven were taken into custody in Zurich on Wednesday.

Unlike their U.S. counterparts, Swiss prosecutors aren't yet investigating the possibility of bribery in the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Instead, their probe — dubbed 'Darwin' — is examining whether members of the executive committee acted in the best interest of FIFA.

Blatter isn't one of those under investigation in the Swiss probe, Marty said.

"As we are speaking Mr. Sepp Blatter is neither under investigation nor is he one of the persons we would like to talk to tomorrow," he said. But he added that this could change.

Switzerland has been trying in recent years to shed its reputation as a location for secret financial dealings; for example, it now cooperates with other countries investigating alleged tax cheats suspected of hiding money in Swiss accounts.

"Be assured that the office of the attorney general won't hesitate to investigate (anyone)," said Marty.

"With these criminal procedures we are trying to underline the efforts of the Swiss authorities in the fight against corruption — international corruption even — and money laundering," he said.

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