Swiss authorities, in cooperation with the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice, arrested seven top international soccer officials on corruption charges ahead of FIFA’s annual congress in Zurich Wednesday morning, the New York Times reported. The Department of Justice has indicted 14 people — nine FIFA soccer officials and five corporate executives — on allegations of “corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a department statement.
The charges include racketeering, money laundering, and bribery “in connection with the defendants’ participation in a 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer,” according to the DOJ. Among the indicted are Jeffrey Webb and Jack Warner, the current and former presidents of CONCACAF, the North and Central American federation of which the United States is a part. The other soccer officials include members of FIFA’s executive committee, FIFA vice presidents, and executive committee members from CONCACAF and CONMEBOL, the South American federation.
In addition, the DOJ indicted four sports marketing executives and a member of the broadcasting business who “allegedly served as an intermediary to facilitate illicit payments between sports marketing executives and soccer officials.”
The officials allegedly took more than $100 million in bribes to steer media rights agreements for major soccer tournaments, according to DOJ. There are also corruption allegations around the selection of South Africa as the 2010 World Cup host and the 2011 FIFA presidential election, the department said in its statement. Swiss officials said that they would extradite those who were arrested to the United States to face charges. Four of those facing indictments have already entered guilty pleas, according to the DOJ statement.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who is expected to be re-elected Friday, was not among those arrested or indicted as part of the U.S. investigation.
Swiss authorities also opened their own investigations into alleged corruption around the bidding processes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Those events were awarded to Russia and Qatar, respectively, in December 2010.
The two bids have been the subject of corruption allegations since British news outlets reported that members of FIFA’s executive committee had asked for payments in exchange for their support. FIFA conducted its own investigation into corruption around the bid last year. The results of former U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia’s probe were never made public, but a summary from FIFA Ethics Committee chief Joachim Eckert, which Garcia roundly criticized, absolved FIFA officials of any wrongdoing.
“In the Swiss criminal proceedings…it is suspected that irregularities occurred in the allocation of the FIFA World Cups of 2018 and 2022,” the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland said in a statement. The Swiss are investigating the possibility of criminal mismanagement and money laundering, and authorities seized files during their raid of the hotel where FIFA members were staying Wednesday. They will interview at least 10 people as part of their investigation. All 10 are members of FIFA’s executive committee, The Guardian reported.
In a statement issued Wednesday, FIFA said that it “welcomes actions that can help contribute to rooting out any wrongdoing in football.”
FIFA officials said in a Wednesday press conference that the presidential election would go on as planned, and that it had no plans to relocate World Cups out of Russia and Qatar, both of which have been plagued not only by corruption allegations but also by reports of widespread labor and human rights abuses around World Cup construction plans.
But even as FIFA tries to put a happier face on the allegations, it and Blatter have already come under fire. Transparency International, a global anti-corruption nonprofit organization, called for Blatter’s resignation and the suspension of elections in a statement issued Wednesday.
“The warning signs for FIFA have been there for a long time. FIFA has refused to abide by many basic standards of good governance that would reduce the risk of corruption,” the statement said (via The Guardian). “These scandals have taken place under Sepp Blatter’s watch of FIFA, which spans almost two decades. For the sake of the fans, and good governance of football, it is time for him to step down. The elections for president are not credible if they are tainted with these allegations by the highest prosecuting authorities.”
International Trade Union Confederation general secretary Sharan Burrow also called on Blatter to resign on Twitter. ITUC and Burrow have been among FIFA and Qatar’s biggest critics over the treatment of workers on World Cup projects in the country. “FIFA makes no apology for corruption — FIFA President takes no responsibility for corruption — How can he stand for election?” Burrow tweeted.
Damian Collins, a British member of Parliament and frequent FIFA critic, also criticized Blatter, telling Reuters that the recent allegations prove “that Sepp Blatter’s promises over the last few years to look into corruption at FIFA have not materialized and because he has totally failed to do this, it has been left to an outside law enforcement agency to do the job and take action.”