As part of a long-running FBI investigation into bribery and corruption, officials of the FIFA governing body were arrested in midst of a meeting in Switzerland on Wednesday.
Officers entered the annual FIFA meeting that was being held in Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich this morning. Fourteen officials were arrested in total, nine of which were current or past FIFA officials.
Their 47 count indictment included counts of wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering, all of which spanned within the past two decades.
The FBI’s ongoing investigation alleges that “more than $150 million in bribes and kickbacks” were paid or arranged to be paid to obtain rights to televise and hold the tournaments.
“They held important responsibilities at every level, from building soccer fields for children in developing countries, to organizing the world cup,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch at a press conference in New York. “They were expected to uphold the rules that keep soccer honest and to protect the integrity of the game. Instead, they corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their interests and enrich themselves.”
Lynch drew from the historic 2010 World Cup in South Africa, calling it a corrupt process. She also stated that corruption extended to the 2011 FIFA presidential election.
“They did this over and over, year after year.”
Acting U.S. Attorney Kelly T. Currie made it clear at the press conference that “this is the beginning.” Currie said this is to send a message around the world that this behaviour will not be tolerated.
The arrests come two days before current President of FIFA Sepp Blatter is expected to be re-elected for his fifth term and less than two weeks before the start of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada. Though Blatter was not named in the investigation.
The Canadian Federal Minister of Sport, Bal Gosal, has said that he does not believe the arrests will damage the upcoming Women’s World Cup in Canada.
A statement from Blatter on behalf of FIFA read, “We welcome the actions and the investigations by the US and Swiss authorities and believe that it will help to reinforce measures that FIFA has already taken to root out any wrongdoing in football.”
The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland opened criminal proceedings for those under suspicion of criminal mismanagement and money laundering in connection to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup.
Swiss officials seized data and documents stored in IT systems of FIFA to scan for irregularities that occurred in the 2018 and 2022 bid competitions.
The arrested FIFA members are:
One of the arrested, Jack Warner, the president of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) was a key player in Canadian soccer over the years.
Former chief operating officer of the Canadian Soccer Association Kevan Pipe had previously credited Warner for helping land the 2007 U-20 FIFA World Cup which was hosted by Canada.
Warner resigned from FIFA in 2011.