FIFA soccer officials arrested as U.S., Switzerland probe corruption

Swiss federal prosecutors opened criminal proceedings related to the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, throwing FIFA deeper into crisis only hours after seven soccer officials were arrested and 14 indicted Wednesday in a separate U.S. corruption probe.

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Swiss prosecutors opened criminal proceedings into FIFA's awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, only hours after seven soccer officials were arrested Wednesday pending extradition to the U.S. in a separate probe of "rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted" corruption.

FIFA, meanwhile, said Friday's presidential election would go ahead as planned with Sepp Blatter going for a fifth term. Blatter was not named in either investigation.

FIFA also ruled out a revote of the World Cups won by Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022.

The Swiss prosecutors' office said in a statement it seized "electronic data and documents" at FIFA's headquarters on Wednesday as part of its probe. And Swiss police said they will question 10 FIFA executive committee members who took part in the World Cup votes in December 2010.

The Swiss investigation against "persons unknown on suspicion of criminal mismanagement and of money laundering" again throws into the doubt the integrity of the voting.

Blatter said FIFA will work hard with authorities to "root out any misconduct." 

"We understand the disappointment that many have expressed and I know that the events of today will impact the way in which many people view us."

But the 79-year-old Blatter insisted that the investigations "will help to reinforce measures that FIFA has already taken to root out any wrongdoing in football."​

FIFA officials were arrested early Wednesday at the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich, Switzerland. (Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters)

The Swiss announcement came only hours after 14 people were indicted in the U.S. for corruption. Seven of them were arrested and detained by Swiss police at the request of U.S. authorities after a raid at a luxury hotel in Zurich.

The U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement that two current FIFA vice presidents were among those arrested and indicted. The men detained include:

  • Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands.
  • Eugenio Figueredo of Uruguay.
  • Eduardo Li of Costa Rica
  • Julio Rocha of Nicaragua
  • Costas Takkas of Britain
  • Rafael Esquivel of Venezuela.
  • Jose Maria Marin of Brazil.

All seven are connected with the regional confederations of North and South America and face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

"The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States," Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said in the statement. "It spans at least two generations of soccer officials who, as alleged, have abused their positions of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks."

Canada Soccer issued a statement Wednesday, stating it "welcomes and supports all efforts to eliminate this type of behaviour in the sport.

"As the host nation for the FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015, the Canadian Soccer Association is confident that the current situation will not impact the competition. We are ready and prepared to successfully host the 24 participating nations from June 6 to July 5 in six official host cities from coast to coast.

"In respect of the ongoing investigation and to maintain our focus as host nation of the FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015, no additional comments will be provided."

Also on Wednesday, FIFA banned 11 individuals from "carrying out any football-related activities on a national and international level," the organization said in a statement on its website. 

The individuals banned include Webb, Figueredo, Li, Rocha, Takkas, Esquivel, and Marin, who were also indicted, as well as Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago, Nicolás Leoz of Paraguay, Chuck Blazer of the U.S. and Darryl Warner, Jack Warner's son.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announces an indictment against nine FIFA officials and five corporate executives for racketeering, conspiracy and corruption at a news conference Wednesday in New York City. (Mark Lennihan/Associated Press)

The Swiss justice ministry said six of the seven officials arrested oppose extradition to the United States, adding that U.S. authorities now have 40 days to submit the formal extradition request.

Nine of the 14 that were indicted by the Justice Department are soccer officials, while four are sports marketing executives and another works in broadcasting. Jack Warner, a former FIFA vice president, was among those indicted.

The Swiss prosecutors' office said the U.S. probe was separate from its investigation but that authorities were working together.

The votes to award the World Cups to Russia and Qatar have been surrounded in controversy and accusations of corruption.

Qatar, a tiny Gulf nation with little soccer tradition, was criticized from the start for its extreme summer heat. FIFA has since been forced to move the tournament to November-December instead of the usual June-July time slot.

FIFA also hired U.S. attorney Michael Garcia to investigate the 2018 and 2022 bid process. His findings were never fully released and both Russia and Qatar were confirmed as hosts. Garcia's full report was turned over to Swiss authorities in November, prompting Wednesday's raid on FIFA headquarters.

FIFA spokesman Walter De Gregorio gives a press conference at the organization's Zurich headquarters on Wednesday. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, who is also a FIFA executive committee member, told The Associated Press "we've got nothing to hide."

"We're prepared to show everything," Mutko said in a telephone interview. "We've always acted within the law."

Qatari soccer officials declined to comment.

The U.S. case involves bribes "totaling more than $100 million" linked to commercial deals dating back to the 1990s for soccer tournaments in the United States and Latin America, the Swiss Federal Office of Justice said.

U.S. prosecutors in New York said they had uncovered a dozen different schemes during its investigation, and some involved the awarding of the 2010 World Cup.

Dozens of soccer officials are in Switzerland for the FIFA congress and presidential election, where Blatter is widely expected to win re-election at the helm of the governing body of world soccer.

UEFA, European soccer's ruling body, said the election scheduled for Friday should be postponed and that it will consider boycotting the congress.

UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino said the UEFA executive committee, which met Wednesday, wants "a change to the leadership" of FIFA, with the congress to be postponed and new elections held within six months.

CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb is among the FIFA officials arrested in Switzerland on May 27. (Matt Rourke/The Associated Press)

The North American regional body, known as CONCACAF, reported itself to U.S. tax authorities in 2012. Then based in New York, the organization had not paid taxes over several years when its president was Warner and secretary general was Chuck Blazer of the United States.

Warner left soccer in 2011 to avoid FIFA sanctions in a bribery scandal during that year's presidential election. Blazer left in 2013 and has pleaded guilty to charges, the Justice Department said in Wednesday's statement. His successor as CONCACAF leader and FIFA vice president is Webb.

With files from CBC News