Sports Integrity Initiative: FIFA officials arrested in Zurich pending extradition to the USA

The Swiss Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) today confirmed that at the request of US authorities, the Zurich Cantonal Police have arrested six ‘soccer’ officials in connection to bribery allegations, who have been detained pending extradition to the US. ‘The FOJ’s arrest warrants were issued further to a request by the US authorities’, read an FOJ statement. ‘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 (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) and other functionaries of FIFA sub-organisations – totaling more than US$100 million. 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.’

The ‘soccer’ officials arrested in Zurich are understood to form eight of a total of 14 people named in the indictment, according to a report in the New York Times. It named Jeffrey Webb, Eugenio Figueredo, Jack Warner, Eduardo Li, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Rafael Esquivel, José Maria Marin and Nicolás Leoz as the featuring soccer officials, as well as sports-marketing executives Alejandro Burzaco, Aaron Davidson, Hugo Jinkis, Mariano Jinkis and José Margulies, an intermediary who is alleged to have facilitated illegal payments. It is understood that the indictment will be formally unsealed in a New York court later today.

The New York Times reports that the arrests were made at the request of the US Department of Justice (DoJ), which is understood to be planning to announce criminal charges against several current and former FIFA executives. In November last year, it was revealed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had carried out an investigation into corruption in football, however it declined to offer details at that time. Earlier this month, FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, confirmed he knew that the FBI is investigating former FIFA colleagues. The individuals are expected to face a number of charges including money laundering, tax evasion, racketeering, and wire fraud.

Matt Apuzzo, an American journalist at the New York Times told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning that Swiss authorities arrived at the front desk of the exclusive Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich, where they picked up the keys to a number of rooms and began making arrests on the basis of corruption allegations which are part of the FBI and DoJ investigation. Speaking at 02:00 EDT (07:00 BST), Apuzzo told the BBC that the arrests relate to charges dating back many years and even decades over bribery and wrongdoing that was allegedly endemic within FIFA. Apuzzo stressed that the charges were not necessarily relating to the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup bids which have been marred in controversy, but to prior activity relating to how FIFA officials conducted the organistation’s marketing and media deals.

The BBC Radio 4 Today programme confirmed that six officials have been arrested, including the FIFA Vice President Jeffery Webb, who is also President of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), but that more would be indicted on US Federal corruption charges. Apuzzo told the BBC that he knew two former FIFA Vice Presidents would be indicted and that more that 10 arrests were to be expected, ranging from very senior members of the FIFA Executive Committee to more ‘run-of-the-mill’ people.

FIFA has arranged a press conference at 11:00 (9:00 GMT, 10:00 BST). The arrests are just two days before the elections for the office of FIFA President take place.

• This article was originally published in the Sports Integrity Initiative internet journal on 27 May 2015. To access the original, please click here.

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