U.S. to charge senior FIFA officials with corruption

Story highlights

  • Prosecutors issued arrest warrants for 14 people
  • Blatter isn’t among those being charged
  • Part of the issue for U.S. authorities is establishing U.S. legal jurisdiction

5:07 a.m. ET: A search warrant was being executed at the CONCACAF headquarters in Miami on Wednesday morning, U.S. officials said.

Full story:

Acting on an indictment by the U.S. Justice Department, Swiss police arrested several top FIFA officials, including two vice presidents, during an overnight raid Wednesday on charges of corruption.

In all, U.S. prosecutors issued arrest warrants for 14 people, on charges ranging from money laundering to fraud and racketeering — for alleged offenses that spanned 24 years.

“The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch. “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.”

The raids were conducted in Zurich, where members of soccer’s scandal-plagued governing body were gathering for an election Friday that could give its leader Sepp Blatter a fifth term.

Blatter isn’t among those being charged, the officials say. But he was among those investigated, and officials say that part of the probe continues.

“Today is a sad day for football,” said Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan, the only person challenging Blatter for FIFA’s top post.

Why is the U.S. bringing down the hammer on FIFA?

Bribes and kickbacks

One of the highest ranking official charged is Jeffrey Webb, a FIFA vice president and head of CONCACAF, the FIFA-affiliated governing body for North America and the Carribean.

Other officials include: Jack Warner, former FIFA vice president and executive committee member; Eugenio Figueredo, FIFA vice president and executive committee member; and Nicolás Leoz, former FIFA executive committee member.

Several sports-marketing executives are also charged.

The Swiss Federal Office of Justice said the suspects accepted bribes and kickbacks totaling more than $ 100 million, from the early 1990s until now.

In return, they provided media, marketing and sponsorship rights to soccer matches in Latin America, the Swiss Office of Justice said.

The charges are a result of a three-year FBI investigation. Lynch has scheduled a news conference for 10:30 a.m. in New York.

The reason why the United States brought charges against the suspects is because the plots were allegedly hatched on American soil.

“According to U.S. request, these crimes were agreed and prepared in the U.S., and payments were carried out via U.S. banks,” the Swiss Office of Justice said.

A FIFA spokesman refused to comment on the arrests.

“We are seeking clarity on the situation,” the spokesman told CNN.

Chequered past

FIFA has been at the center of corruption investigations for years. But the organization has long dismissed allegations that top officials were on the take.

In December, FIFA’s ethics committee said it was closing its investigation into alleged corruption in the 2018 and 2022 bidding process that awarded the World Cup to Russia and Qatar, respectively.

The group said its investigation found no corruption and it has no reason to reopen the bidding process.

But the FBI wasn’t ready to do the same.

The U.S. investigation accelerated after former U.S. prosecutor, Michael Garcia, who was hired by FIFA to do an internal investigation distanced himself from FIFA’s claims of finding no corruption.

In 2011, the FIFA banned for life Mohamed bin Hammam, a Qatari member of its top governing body, for ethics violations.

Jurisdiction issues

Part of the issue for U.S. authorities is establishing U.S. legal jurisdiction for alleged crimes that largely occurred outside the United States.

However, prosecutors believe the broad reach of U.S. tax and banking regulations aid their ability to bring the charges.

In addition, U.S. authorities claim jurisdiction because the American television market, and billions paid by U.S. networks, is the largest for the World Cup.

“Today’s announcement should send a message that enough is enough,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Currie. “After decades of what the indictment alleges to be brazen corruption, organized international soccer needs a new start.

“Let me be clear: this indictment is not the final chapter in our investigation.”

True to their words, authorities were executing a search warrant at the CONCACAF headquarters in Miami on Wednesday morning.

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