KEIR RADNEDGE in ZURICH —-A confident prediction of a further wave of arrests in the FIFAGate corruption scandal was delivered here in Zurich today by Loretta Lynch, the United States Attorney-General.
Lynch’s words will send a shiver of fear through the world football family, not least those in and around Sepp Blatter, departing president of the world federation whose vast offices were just a few miles away atop the hills overlooking the city.
Blatter and members of his governing executive committee had hoped that the American investigatory zeal might be satisfied with the indictment handed down in May against 14 senior FIFA-linked officials. This is not the case. Criminal investigations roll on, not only out of the United States but also, separately, in Switzerland.
Lynch indicated that the forthcoming arrests could involve not only individuals but also ‘entities,’ potentially including not only companies but football bodies. She would not comment on whether Blatter might be among the individuals.
The Attorney-General had commandeered centre stage in the FIFA corruption saga back on May 27 when she revealed details of the fraud, conspiracy and corruption charges against 14 FIFA-linked officials and businessmen.
Hours earlier seven of them, including two FIFA vice-presidents, had been arrested pending extradition in Zurich. This was two days before the congress at which Blatter was re-elected for a fifth term in office.
The weight of scandal played a decisive role in his decision, only four days later, to announce his impending departure. A new president will be elected at an extraordinary congress next February 26.
Lynch was in Zurich to address a conference organised by the International Association of Prosecutors and which could hardly have chosen a more coincidentally appropriate – or pointed – venue for its 20th anniversary event.
Appeared at a news conference with her Swiss counterpart Michael Lauber, she said: “In the four months since May our work and the investigation has continued. Thirteen of the 14 defendants have been arrested either by us or by other authorities. Three have been arraigned in a federal court in Brooklyn; 10 others are pending extradition in Switzerland and three other countries.
“Our investigation is ongoing and has expanded since May. On the basis of new evidence we anticipate pursuing additional charges against individuals and entities.”
Lynch praised the co-operation of the Swiss authorities before launching into a stern warning about the threat of corruption to the worldwide game and the imperative need for reform of its governing structures.
She said: “The problem of corruption in socer is global and we will remain vigilant. One hallmark has guided our work: all individuals involved in soccer, this beloved sport through which we teach sportsmanship, integrity and fair play, must be committed to reform and compliance with the rule of law.
“To anyone who seeks to live in the past, this global response sends a clear message: You are on the wrong side of progress and do a disserve to the integrity of this wonderful sport.”
Later she directed that advice at Blatter and the world governing body, saying: “FIFA are considering the issues of not just reform but improving the sport overall – and I know they have a lot to consider.
“For individuals who have a choice to return soccer to its old ways of corruption or to move into the way soccer should be run we hope they chose the latter path and that’s our goal for FIFA. We look forward to working with them as they make progress in this direction.”
Lynch, asked about the timeline for court action, was confident all 14 would eventually be brought to the US so they could be tried together. However the court could act against individuals in absentia.
She added: “The investigation is very far-ranging. We are still continuing to look at the business arrangements specified in the first indictment and other business arrangements which were carried out by FIFA as well.”
Lynch would not say whether Blatter might be subject to investigation or questioning should he choose to step outside the protective borders of Switzerland.
She said: “I have no comment on individuals who may or may not be subject to the next round of arrests so I cannot give you any information about Mr Blatter’s travel plans.”
Blatter, as a Swiss citizen, cannot be extradited from his home country. The only foreign trip he had made since the arrests in May was to Russia last month for 2014 World Cup qualifying draw.
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