US files formal extradition request for 7 FIFA officials
GENEVA (AP) — The United States has submitted a formal request for Switzerland to extradite seven FIFA officials arrested in Zurich as part of a corruption probe that has rocked soccer's world governing body.
Switzerland's Federal Office of Justice said Thursday that the requests were received from the U.S. embassy in Bern. The expected demands submitted late Wednesday met a 40-day deadline since the seven were detained early May 27 in raids on a luxury hotel in FIFA's home city.
All seven men detained in Zurich, including three current and former members of FIFA's executive committee, have already objected to extradition. They face around 20 years in prison.
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The widening American investigation already alleges bribery and racketeering worth more than $150 million involving high-ranking FIFA officials over a 24-year span.
The U.S. Department of Justice published an indictment of 14 soccer and marketing officials in May which alleged bribery linked to awarding broadcast rights for international tournaments in North and South America.
"These crimes are thought to have been agreed and prepared in the USA, and payments were allegedly routed through US banks," the Swiss justice ministry said in a statement Thursday.
The seven will be heard by Zurich cantonal (State) police and granted a 14-day period to respond to federal officials about the extradition request, the Swiss justice ministry said.
Swiss justice officials will then rule "within a few weeks" on whether to extradite them. That ruling can be appealed to Switzerland's top criminal court and supreme court.
The seven men include FIFA vice president Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands and Eugenio Figueredo of Uruguay, who was arrested two days before his FIFA vice presidential term expired.
Costa Rican soccer federation president Eduardo Li was arrested two days before he was due to formally join FIFA's executive committee.
Former Brazilian federation chief Jose Maria Marin led the 2014 World Cup local organizing committee and is a member of the FIFA panel organizing the men's and women's tournaments at next year's Olympic Games.
The others are Venezuela FA chief Rafael Esquivel; FIFA staffer Julio Rocha, a development officer from Nicaragua; and Costas Takkas, a Briton who works for CONCACAF President Webb.
The other seven men among the 14 indicted include disgraced former FIFA vice president Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago, and former FIFA executive committee member Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay, the longtime former president of South American governing body CONMEBOL.
Warner and Leoz, who left FIFA in 2011 and 2013, respectively, to avoid sanctions for unethical behavior, are fighting extradition to the U.S. from their home countries.
A further four men have entered guilty pleas which were unsealed in May. They include American former FIFA executive panel member Chuck Blazer and two sons of Warner.
The indictment revealed that Blazer admitted being part of a $10 million bribe scheme with Warner for supporting South Africa's successful bid to host the 2010 World Cup. A third South American FIFA voter was also involved, Blazer alleged.
FIFA has acknowledged that its secretary general Jerome Valcke helped transfer the money through its accounts at South Africa's request. FIFA and Valcke said the cash was believed to be for soccer projects for the African diaspora in the Caribbean, and was approved by Julio Grondona of Argentina, the chairman of FIFA's finance committee who died last year.
American law enforcement officials have confirmed that FIFA President Sepp Blatter is a target of the investigation which is expected to bring more indictments.
"Whoever accuses me of being corrupt has to prove it to me first," Blatter said in extracts of an interview released Wednesday by German weekly magazine Bunte. "But nobody can do that because I'm not corrupt."
Blatter said June 2 he would leave office within months, as pressure built from the American case and a separate Swiss federal investigation focused on possible money laundering linked to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting awards to Russia and Qatar, respectively.
Blatter cannot be extradited from his native Switzerland to the U.S. without his consent.
Still, he and Frenchman Valcke risk arrest in many countries. They did not travel to New Zealand for the Under-20 World Cup final played June 20 and will not go to Canada for the Women's World Cup final in Vancouver on Sunday.
Blatter was re-elected for a fifth four-year term on May 29, then announced his planned FIFA exit four days later.