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Fifa rocked by US racketeering charges

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Fifa rocked by US racketeering charges
Photo: AFP
11:05 CEST+02:00
Fifa, the Zurich-based governing body for world football, was rocked on Wednesday by US allegations of racketeering involving millions of dollars of bribes and corruption charges levelled against nine of its top officials, including two vice-presidents.

Zurich cantonal police arrested six Fifa officials at the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich on the same day as the US justice department issued its 47-count indictment, which also includes charges against five corporate executives.

The shock arrests, accompanied by another fraud investigation into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, came only two days before Fifa president Sepp Blatter seeks reelection in a campaign overshadowed by scandal.

The US indictment outlines charges against 14 defendants of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies in a “24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer”.

Those charged include high-ranking officials of Fifa as well as leading officials of other football governing bodies that operate under the Fifa umbrella, the justice department said.

Jeffrey Webb and Jack Warner – the current and former presidents of Concacaf, the continental confederation under Fifa headquartered in Miami – are among the officials charged with racketeering and bribery offences, the department said.

Webb was among those arrested in Zurich cantonal police in the dawn raid.

The defendants also include US and South American sports marketing executives who are alleged to have “systematically paid and agreed to pay well over $150 million in bribes and kickbacks to obtain lucrative media and marketing rights to international soccer tournaments”.

The justice department said it had received guilty pleas from six of the 14 defendants named in the indictment, including from Charles Blazer, the long-serving former general secretary of Concacaf and former US representative on the Fifa executive committee.

José Hawilla, the owner and founder of the Traffic Group, a multinational sports marketing conglomerate headquartered in Brazil, has also pleaded guilty.

Additionally, two of Hawilla's companies, Traffic Sports International Inc. and Traffic Sports USA Inc., which is based in Florida admitted to their involvement in the scam.

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

Swiss police, meanwhile, raided the headquarters of FIFA in Zurich, seizing documents and electronic data, the Swiss attorney-general's office said.
   
The raids were part of a separate investigation already underway into money laundering and fraud involving FIFA's awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively, a statement said.

The Swiss Attorney General has opened "criminal proceedings against persons unknown on suspicion of criminal mismanagement and of money laundering" in connection with the allocation of the tournaments. 

"It is certainly a difficult moment for us," Walter de Gregorio, Fifa's director of communications and public affairs, told a press conference in Zurich.

"It's not good in terms of image . . . but in terms of cleaning up it's good," De Gregorio said.

He said Fifa is "the damaged party" and noted that the organization initiated the (Swiss) process by asking authorities to look into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

De Gregorio emphasized that Blatter was not involved in the investigations.

He also insisted that the election of Fifa's president on Friday would go ahead as planned.

After suggesting that Blatter was relaxed about the developments, De Gregorio clarified his remarks.

"Well, he is not dancing in his office," he said.

"He is very calm, he is fully cooperative with everything — that's what I meant.

"He's not a happy man, saying wow wow."

Prince Ali bin al Hussein of Jordan, a Fifa vice president, is standing against Blatter in Friday's election.

He called Wednesday's arrests a "sad day" for football.

He and European federation chiefs have campaigned for a change of leadership to save Fifa's "tainted image".

 

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