FBI on Fifa arrests: 'This is the World Cup of fraud and today we are issuing Fifa a red card'
Published 27/05/2015 | 16:31
Football's world governing body Fifa was engulfed in crisis today after nine of its officials were accused of breeding decades of "rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted" corruption.
The hard-hitting allegations were made by US authorities, raising massive questions over the organisation's presidential election on Friday and the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar. A separate Swiss investigation has been launched into possible criminal mismanagement of the allocations of these.
The position of current president Sepp Blatter was under the spotlight though he is not one of those arrested.
The Fifa officials, including vice-president Jeffrey Webb and former vice-president Jack Warner, and seven others have been charged with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies in connection with an alleged "24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer", the US justice department said.
The defendants also include US and South American sports marketing executives who the department said "are alleged to have systematically paid and agreed to pay well over 150 million US dollars in bribes and kickbacks to obtain lucrative media and marketing rights to international soccer tournaments".
Attorney General Loretta Lynch 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."
Events that were influenced by corruption included the award of the 2010 World Cup to South Africa and the 2011 Fifa presidential election, she said.
Extradition would be the next step in the legal process so those charged could face prosecution in the US.
Seven of the officials, including Webb, were arrested in an early morning raid at a Zurich hotel today carried out by Swiss authorities at the request of the US.
Director James Comey of the FBI said: "As charged in the indictment, the defendants fostered a culture of corruption and greed that created an uneven playing field for the biggest sport in the world.
"Undisclosed and illegal payments, kickbacks, and bribes became a way of doing business at Fifa. I want to commend the investigators and prosecutors around the world who have pursued this case so diligently, for so many years."
The chairman of the Football Association, football's governing body in England, questioned whether the leadership election should go ahead.
Greg Dyke, who said the FA had nominated rival Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan as the next president, said: "We should stress this morning's developments are very serious for Fifa and its current leadership.
"As one of the associations who nominated Prince Ali, it will not surprise you to learn that if the election for president goes ahead, the FA will be voting for him.
"However, there must be a question mark over whether the election should take place in these circumstances."
Despite years of negative headlines, Mr Blatter, 79, is the overwhelming favourite to win a fifth term of office.
During his 17-year tenure there have been numerous corruption allegations surrounding Fifa officials but he still holds the formal backing from the Asian, African and South American confederations.
Swiss authorities announced their separate investigation into mismanagement and money laundering surrounding the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
Fifa director of communications Walter de Gregorio confirmed the presidency election will go ahead despite the revelations.
He added that there will also be no redraw of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
Asked about the US investigation, he said: "For us it's a hard time, it's not nice being here in front of (the media) trying to explain something that is not nice but at the same time for us, for Fifa, this is good, it confirms that we are on the right track.
"It hurts, it's not easy but it's the only way to go. We are ready to go the way we started four years ago and nothing will stop us."
He confirmed Mr Blatter and Fifa secretary-general Jerome Valcke were not involved in the corruption proceedings.
The guilty pleas of four individual and two corporate defendants were revealed by the US today, including that of Chuck Blazer, the long-serving former general secretary of Concacaf Champions League.
Mr de Gregorio said Fifa initiated the investigation about the World Cup bidding process after raising concerns with the Swiss authorities last year and "welcomes" their investigation.
The Swiss police raided the headquarters of Fifa in Zurich today where it gathered data and documents as part of their investigation into "irregularities" surrounding the major tournaments.
Warner insisted he was innocent. In a statement to Press Association Sport he said: "I have been afforded no due process and I have not even been questioned in this matter. I reiterate that I am innocent of any charges."