US justice officials charge 14 in Fifa corruption investigation
Suspects face 47 criminal counts for accepting bribes of more than $150m
FIFA officials are escorted out behind sheets following their arrests by Swiss authorities at the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich on Wednesday. The US has filed federal charges alleging corruption over two decades. Photograph: Pascal Mora/The New York Times
In a devastating blow to world football’s governing body, US justice officials have charged 14 people linked to Fifa and international football organisations with 47 criminal counts for accepting bribes and kickbacks of more than $150 million (€134 million) over 24 years.
Prosecutors claim to have uncovered a dozen criminal schemes involving bribes being paid in exchange for media deals for major football tournaments, starting in 1991 with the Copa America, and including the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
In a double blow for Fifa, Swiss prosecutors opened a separate investigation into the bidding for the World Cups in 2018 in Russia and in Qatar in 2022, seizing records from its headquarters in Zurich. Police in Switzerland said they plan to question at least 10 Fifa executive committee members who voted for Russia and Qatar in 2010.
Seven of the 14 men charged by the US, including Fifa vice president Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands, were arrested at a plush Zurich hotel by Swiss police acting on behalf of the US department of justice which wants to extradite them to New York.
Four of the accused, including two sports marketing companies, have already pleaded guilty and are likely to help prosecutors convict others.
The charges may not end with the 14. The indictment refers to 25 unnamed co-conspirators, including Fifa officials and World Cup bidders.
“We are looking into individuals and entities in a variety of countries,” said Kelly Currie, the US attorney for New York’s eastern district who has supervised the three-year investigation. The defendants face charges of racketeering, bribery, money laundering and fraud.
The charge cast a shadow over Fifa’s planned elections on Friday where 79-year-old Swiss sports official Sepp Blatter, who has not been indicted, is seeking a fifth term as president. Fifa insisted that the vote would proceed despite the charges and arrests in Zurich of the seven officials due to attend tomorrow’s vote.
Blatter remains the favourite to win if the vote does go ahead and Uefa, whose president, Michel Platini, has become a leading critic of the Swiss, issued a statement after its executive committee met in Warsaw, calling for the election and wider Fifa Congress to be postponed.
“Today’s events are a disaster for Fifa,” it said, “and tarnish the image of football as a whole. Uefa is deeply shocked and saddened by them. These events show, once again, that corruption is deeply rooted in Fifa’s culture.
“There is a need for the whole of Fifa to be rebooted”, the statement continued, “and for a real reform to be carried out.”
Uefa, which provides extensive funding to its members, would be expected to enjoy considerable sway over its affiliate associations due to vote and the FAI had already indicated its intention to follow Platini’s lead by casting its ballot against Blatter who it has previously supported.
Nevertheless FAI chief executive John Delaney indicated yesterday that he would prefer the election to proceed.
Blatter, for his part, persisted with the claim, made earlier in the day by Fifa officials, that the arrests and investigations were in line with the organisation’s efforts to clean itself up.