Fifa in fresh turmoil as US authorities broaden investigation

Sixteen prominent Central and South American officials facing a range of charges

The investigation into corruption and bribery in soccer that in May rocked Fifa to the core reached new levels yesterday.

United States officials unsealed a new indictment that alleged an even more extensive network of criminal behaviour across dozens of countries.

The allegations involve some of the most powerful people in international soccer.

Sixteen new defendants were identified, with charges including wire fraud, money laundering and racketeering, aimed almost entirely at individuals from Central and South America. Among them were a former president of Honduras, a judge on the Constitutional Court of Guatemala and the current and former presidents of Brazil's national soccer federation.


Most complex

"This case has been nothing short of one of the most complex, worldwide financial investigations ever conducted," said Richard Weber, chief of the criminal investigation unit of the Internal Revenue Service.

He added that the investigation had traced funds through at least 40 countries.

“We have identified hundreds of millions of dollars, proceeds that went through bank accounts throughout the world.”

About 14 hours before the indictment was unsealed, Swiss authorities conducted pre-dawn arrests in the broad investigation, led by United States officials. By day’s end, a huge case that has upended Fifa had nearly doubled in size.

Some of the arrests took place at the same luxury hotel where other Fifa officials were arrested in May. The Swiss police entered the hotel, the Baur au Lac, through a side door at 6am. local time.

The 16 new defendants were: Alfredo Hawit; Ariel Alvarado; Rafael Callejas; Brayan Jiménez; Rafael Salguero; Héctor Trujillo; Reynaldo Vasquez; Juan Ángel Napout; Manuel Burga; Carlos Chávez; Luís Chiriboga; Marco Polo del Nero; Eduardo Deluca; José Luis Meiszner; Romer Osuna; Ricardo Teixeira.

Callejas is the former president of Honduras. Trujillo is the judge. Del Nero and Teixeira are the current and former presidents of Brazil’s federation.

Hawit is the president of Concacaf, the regional confederation that includes North and Central America and the Caribbean. Napout is the president of Conmebol, the South American confederation. Both are Fifa vice-presidents and members of the organisation's governing executive committee.

Hours before the US Justice Department disclosed that he too was indicted, Callejas, the president of Honduras in the early 1990s and former general secretary of the nation's soccer federation, denied he was implicated.

When asked about social media speculation that he could face charges, Callejas said; “Why me? I was never a member of Concacaf or Fifa. People are wondering because they want to wonder. There are some who have evil in their soul but there is no reason to be associated with these issues.”

In a news conference yesterday afternoon, US attorney general Loretta E Lynch described what federal officials believe is evidence of corruption.

“Consistent with the intergenerational nature of the corruption schemes, they involve payments relating to tournaments that have already been played, as well as matches scheduled into the next decade,” she said.

Yesterday’s charges, coming as Fifa’s leaders gathered in Zurich, served as a high-profile reminder that despite the organisation’s promises of reform, soccer’s top officials remain under intense legal scrutiny.

"When criminals bring their corrupt activity to our shores and our banks, they will play by our rules," said Diego G Rodriguez of the FBI's New York field office.

Fifa released a statement that said it would “continue to co-operate fully with the US investigation as permitted by Swiss law, as well as with the investigation being led by the Swiss Office of the Attorney General.”

(New York Times Service)