KEIR RADNEDGE in ZURICH —- Sepp Blatter is facing potentially the greatest crisis ever to confront the scandal-assailed world football federation after an early-morning hotel raid by police in Zurich and seven arrests was followed by the United States Justice Department handing down corruption charge indictments against 14 people including senior current and former FIFA officials.
The dramatic Zurich arrests were made by Swiss police at the request of the US authorities at 6am Wednesday morning at the Baur au Lac hotel where FIFA grandees are staying ahead of congress on Friday. Simultaneously Swiss police turned up at FIFA headquarters in the search for further documentation about the 2018-2022 World Cup bid scandal.
Despite all the pressure and confusion a FIFA spokesman later insisted that congress and the presidential election would go ahead as planned.
Those arrested at the Baur au Lac were ushered out and into police cars shielded from the media by bedsheets. They included FIFA vice-president Jeffrey Webb, head of CONCACAF and from the Cayman Islands; former South American football president Eugenio Figueredo from Uruguay; incoming FIFA exco member Eduardo Li from Costa Rica; and former Brazilian CBF president Jose Maria Marin.
Later the Swiss justice ministry said that six of the seven being detained had indicated they would resist extradition to the United States.
Also being sought is the Trinidadian politician and one-time FIFA powerbroker, Jack Warner. He protested his innocence but reported to police and was released on bail after a the Trinidad and Tobago attorney-general issued a provisional arrest warrant with the aim of extraditing him to the US.
Inevitably, however, concerns over the governance of the world game and Blatter’s personal leadership were revived by the co-ordinated police raid and the US action.
The US charges have emerged after a three-year FBI investigation into allegations concerning the misuse of up to $150m. Both US and Swiss police sources said their investigations reached as far as the early 1990s.
Legal action could not have come at a more embarrassing moment with Blatter apparently cruising towards a comfortable victory in Friday’s election at FIFA Congress here. The timing was deliberate because of the mass presence of all the world’s senior football officials in Zurich this week.
One of the challenges for the the US authorities is establishing legal jurisdiction for alleged crimes that would have occurred outside the United States. US Attorney General Loretta Lynch was carefully specific in her own news conference to explain precisely why she and her colleagues from the FBI and IRS claimed jurisdiction over the corruption allegations because they were centred around CONCACAF, the central and north American confederation.
Prosecutors believed the broad reach of U.S. tax and banking regulations aided their ability to bring the charges and were apparently vindicated in persuading ex-FIFA and CONCACAF official Chuck Blazer and Warner’s sons to submit guilty pleas.
Bidding coruption claims
The FIFA ethics committee said last December that it was closing its investigation into alleged corruption in the 2018 and 2022 bidding process that awarded the World Cup to Russia and Qatar, respectively. Disciplinary charges are still being prepared.
The Swiss attorney-general’s office, however, is pursuing its own investigation based on documentation handed over by FIFA last November. This was the spark for the separate raid undertaken at at the Home of FIFA.
Also last November American attorney Michael Garcia who had been hired as an independent ethics prosecutor to inquire into the World Cup bid and other scandals, quit in angry frustration because he believed FIFA was ‘burying’ his report.
Around a dozen members of the FIFA executive committee which took the 2018-2022 decision have since left the governing body, either because of disciplinary action or to escape the prospect of it.
One voting member in December 2o1o was Mohamed Bin Hammam, Qatari president back then of the Asian confederation.
In 2011, FIFA banned Bin Hammam for life for ethics code violations. In fact it was events arising out of his alliance with Warner which initially blew the lid on CONCACAF finances . . . and thus ‘joined the dots’ by prompting the US tax and FBI investigations.