Sport Soccer

Sunday 26 March 2017

Blatter faces fresh questions after FIFA darkest day

UEFA call for elections to be postponed

An FBI agent wearing a mask carries a box from the headquarters of CONCACAF after it was raided yesterday
An FBI agent wearing a mask carries a box from the headquarters of CONCACAF after it was raided yesterday

Ben Rumsby

Sepp Blatter and FIFA were plunged into their biggest crisis last night after an extraordinary day during which a wave of arrests of senior football officials was made in dawn raids and criminal action was launched over the award of the next two World Cup finals tournaments.

In a swoop co-ordinated by the FBI and its Swiss counterpart, seven executives, including two of Blatter's eight vice-presidents, were seized at a luxury Zurich hotel on charges of bribery and fraud.

Seven more current and former football and marketing officials were also charged by the United States Department of Justice in a 47-count indictment for alleged offences spanning almost a quarter of a century and involving more than $150million in illegal payments. Each of the 14 individuals involved faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.

Loretta Lynch, the US attorney general, amid warnings of more arrests to come, said: "The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States.

"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. Today's action makes clear that this Department of Justice intends to end any such corrupt practices, to root out misconduct, and to bring wrongdoers to justice."

hijacked

The FBI director, James Comey, accused those charged of having "hijacked" football. "That field that is so famously flat was made tilted in favour of those looking to gain at the expense of countries and kids who were enjoying the game of soccer," he said.

In a separate legal action timed to coincide with that instigated in the US, the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland opened proceedings against unnamed individuals suspected of criminal mismanagement and money laundering in connection with the award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup finals tournaments to Russia and Qatar respectively. Seizing documents and electronic data from FIFA's headquarters, the OAG announced that 10 of the 22 executives who took part in the 2010 vote were wanted for questioning.

The twin raids left FIFA reeling two days before its annual congress at which Blatter had been expected to comfortably secure re-election as president. Its director of communications, Walter de Gregorio, said the events would not lead to a rerunning of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup vote but acknowledged that could change.

Blatter faced renewed calls to resign over the latest scandal to engulf the organisation during his 17-year reign but De Gregorio rejected them out of hand. "He's not dancing in his office," he said when challenged over Blatter's "relaxed" response to the news yesterday.

Blatter issued a statement last night in which he said he welcomed the criminal proceedings, which were followed by provisional suspensions of 11 of those indicted by FIFA's ethics committee. He said: "We will continue to work with the relevant authorities and we will work vigorously within FIFA in order to root out any misconduct, to regain your trust and ensure that football worldwide is free from wrongdoing."

Among those arrested and charged in Zurich were the FIFA vice-presidents Jeffrey Webb and Eugenio Figueredo, of the Cayman Islands and Uruguay respectively. Eduardo Li, a Costa Rican due to join FIFA's ruling executive committee tomorrow, was also seized at the Baur du Lac hotel in a raid that began at around 6am.

Others arrested and charged were the former Brazilian football president Jose Maria Marin, Webb's attache Costas Takkas, the Venezuelan football president Rafael Esquivel and the FIFA development officer Julio Rocha.

The seven seized remained in custody last night, with six of them contesting their extradition to the US. They will not be allowed to leave Switzerland until a final decision is made by the courts.

Among the seven others indicted were the disgraced former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner and the former exco member Nicolas Leoz .

The Department of Justice also announced four men had already pleaded guilty to charges against them, including former FIFA exco member Chuck Blazer, who turned supergrass and is said to have carried a bugging device during London 2012 to entrap his ex-colleagues. Warner's sons Daryan and Daryll were two of the other three convicted.

Wanted for questioning by Swiss authorities before they leave the country are 10 foreign exco members who voted in the controversial 2010 ballot that determined the next two World Cup finals hosts. Blatter and Michel Platini, the UEFA president, were not wanted for immediate questioning as both are residents and can be interrogated later.

UEFA demanded the election be postponed for six months and threatened to boycott it if it was not.

European football's governing body branded the day "a disaster for FIFA" that risked rendering its annual congress tomorrow "a farce" and endorsing a culture that could "ultimately kill football".

The governing body's executive committee added in a statement: "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' and for a real reform to be carried out.

"The upcoming FIFA congress risks to turn into a farce and therefore the European associations will have to consider carefully if they should even attend this congress and caution a system, which, if it is not stopped, will ultimately kill football. In the meantime, the members of the UEFA executive committee are convinced that there is a strong need for a change to the leadership of this FIFA." (© Daily Telegraph , London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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