Police arrest Fifa officials in Zurich over ‘bribes’

UPDATED: Six football officials suspected of receiving bribes worth millions of dollars were arrested in Zurich early Wednesday at the request of the US government, Swiss authorities said.

Police arrest Fifa officials in Zurich over 'bribes'
Baur au Lac hotel, where arrests took place. Photo: AFP

The New York Times reported that Fifa officials were arrested by Zurich police at the upscale Baur au Lac hotel.
“The bribery suspects — representatives of sports media and sports promotion firms — are alleged to have been involved in schemes to make payments to the soccer functionaries —  delegates of Fifa . . . and other functionaries of Fifa sub-organizations — totalling more than $100 million,” the Swiss justice department said in a statement.
“In return, it is believed that they received media, marketing, and sponsorship rights in connection with soccer tournaments in Latin America,” it added.
The justice department said the six officials were arrested upon the request of US authorities “on suspicion of the acceptance of bribes and kick-backs between the early 1990s and the present day,” and that they were being held pending extradition.
“According to the US request, these crimes were agreed and prepared in the US, and payments were carried out via US banks,” the statement said.

Law enforcement officials said much of the inquiry involves Concacaf, one of the six regional confederations that compose Fifa, the New York Times reported.

Concacaf stands for Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football.

According to a US justice department indictment, football officials charged include Jeffrey Webb, Eugenio Figueredo, Jack Warner, Eduardo Li, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Rafael Esquivel, José Maria Marin.

Warner, longtime head of Trinidad & Tobago’s football federation, headed Concacaf from 1990 to 2011, while Webb is the current president.

The New York Times reported that charges were also expected against sports marketing executives Alejandro Burzaco, Aaron Davidson, Hugo Jinkis and Mariano Jinkis.

Fifa issued a statement saying it would hold a press conference at 11am in Zurich to follow up the arrest of the senior football officials.

It said the press conference by communications head Walter DeGregorio would also be streamed live on its website.
A Fifa spokeswoman earlier said that international football's top body was seeking to clarify the situation, and would not comment on the arrests.

“We have seen the media reports,” she told AFP.

“We are seeking to clarify the situation. We will not comment at this stage.”

The charges are a major challenge for Fifa that comes as its head Sepp Blatter looks to secure a fifth term in a Friday vote.

The Swiss met with Concacaf representatives on Tuesday.

But Blatter, a powerful figure in sports, is not a target of the US case, The New York Times reported.

In May, Blatter denied he was a target of an FBI corruption investigation.
The denial came after an ESPN television documentary said the Swiss official stayed away from the US over a Fifa investigation.

Blatter, who has led Fifa since 1998, has continually had to steer the multi-billion dollar world body through corruption storms.
The latest has been over the award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar.
Qatar has strongly denied any wrongdoing linked to its bid.

But a former Fifa vice president from the Gulf state was banned for life from FIFA because of corruption.
A former US attorney, Michael Garcia, investigated the World Cup bids.

He left Fifa because it refused to fully publish his report.
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 say a change of leadership is now urgently needed to save Fifa's tainted image.

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‘Overwhelmed’: Unaware Swiss super fan stunned about viral fame

A Swiss super fan who has shot to fame after images of him watching Switzerland’s win over France went viral told the media he was unaware of his viral fame - but that he was overwhelmed with the world’s attention.

‘Overwhelmed’: Unaware Swiss super fan stunned about viral fame
Image: Twitter.

Like most Swiss football fans, Luca Loutenbach’s Monday evening – highlighted by a surprise upset win over the current World Champions and tournament favourite France – went about as well as you could have expected. 

But while his side were putting on the pressure through late goals to push the game into extra time, Loutenbach’s image was being shared across the world. 

Two pictures of Loutenbach, juxtaposed from before and after Switzerland scored an equaliser in the 90th minute to send the game to extra time, were widely shared. 

The images were even shared by Sadiq Kahn, the mayor of London, who congratulated Switzerland and said the images summed up the beauty of football. 

On Tuesday, Loutenbach spoke with Swiss tabloid Blick to tell the story. He said he had no idea about the images as his phone had no reception in Romania – and only found out after the game. 

“I didn’t have a network during the game. But some fans around me were connected to the internet and quickly realized what was happening. What an incredible buzz!” said the man from the canton of Jura. 

While Switzerland have made it further than they have in their history in the tournament, Loutenbach is far from a bandwagon fan. He told Blick he’s seen around 50 national team games before. 

“It’s the most beautiful day in the history of Swiss football, let’s not be afraid of saying it. It is the accomplishment of the immense work of the ASF (Federation), of (coach) Petkovic and of the whole team” he said.