27 May 2015

Fifa officials held in Switzerland on corruption charges

Fourteen high-ranking Fifa officials – including vice-president Jeffrey Webb – face extradition to the USA as part of an investigation into bribery allegations in world football adding up to $150m.

Swiss officials arrested seven prominent Fifa figures at the request of US authorities, who are also seeking the extradition of a further seven. In total, nine football officials and five sports media and promotions executives face extradition to the United States on corruption charges, US authorities said.

Read more: Paul Mason on why the Fifa arrests will worry big corporations

Four people and two corporate defendants had already pleaded guilty to various charges, the US Justice Department said. And officials started a search of the headquarters of CONCACAF, the football federation that governs North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

‘Culture of corruption’

“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.”

Swiss officials said the allegations date back to the 1990s and involve “the acceptance of bribes and kick-backs”. According to reports, officers swooped on the five-star Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich, Switzerland, and arrested a number of officials, including Mr Webb from the Cayman Islands.

The New York Times has reported that the charges include wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering, and that the United States attorney general Loretta Lynch is due to hold a news conference later on Wednesday.

A criminal investigation in to the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups was also launched by Swiss officials. According to Fifa, the developments will not affect the finals of those tournaments, which are due to be held in Russia and Qatar, respectively.

‘Sepp Blatter’

At a press conference in Zurich, Channel 4 News Sports Correspondent Keme Nzerem asked Fifa spokesman Walter De Gregorio if Sepp Blatter should be held accountable for the arrests. Mr De Gregorio said: “The president is not involved. of course he is the head of FIFA but he is not involved so how can you say he has to step down?”

He added: “He’s not dancing in his office, this kind of relaxing. He’s very calm, he sees what’s happens. He’s fully cooperative with everybody and that’s what I meant. He’s not kind of a happy man today and say ‘Wow, wow it’s really cool what happens here’ but he knows, he knows this is the consequences of what we initiated.”

Asked if the election of the Fifa president would still go ahead this week, he said: “There was never such an idea to postpone the congress nor the election, one thing has nothing to do with the other.”

On Wednesday afternoon, European football’s governing body Uefa called for Fifa’s presidential election – due to be held on Friday – to be postponed.

The Swiss Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) said it had blocked accounts at several banks in the country.

Read more - Fifa arrests: who are Jeffrey Webb and Eugenio Figueredo?

An FOJ statement read: “The six soccer functionaries were arrested today in Zurich by the Zurich Cantonal Police. The FOJ’s arrest warrants were issued further to a request by the US authorities. The US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York is investigating these individuals on suspicion of the acceptance of bribes and kick-backs between the early 1990s and the present day.

“The bribery suspects – representatives of sports media and sports promotion firms – are alleged to have been involved in schemes to make payments to the soccer functionaries – delegates of Fifa and other functionaries of Fifa sub-organisations – totalling more than $100m.

“In return, it is believed that they received media, marketing, and sponsorship rights in connection with soccer tournaments in Latin America. According to the US request, these crimes were agreed and prepared in the US, and payments were carried out via US banks.”


Swiss officials said the suspects’ deportation could be sanctioned immediately.

The statement added: “The Zurich Cantonal Police will question the detainees today on behalf of the FOJ regarding the US request for their arrest. A simplified procedure will apply for wanted persons who agree to their immediate extradition.

“The FOJ can immediately approve their extradition to the US and order its execution. However, if a wanted person opposes their extradition, the FOJ will invite the US to submit a formal extradition request within the deadline of 40 days specified in the bilateral extradition treaty.”