Sunday 23 October 2016

Uefa call to postpone Fifa election

Published 27/05/2015 | 07:16

The Swiss Federal Office of Justice says US authorities suspect the Fifa officials of receiving or paying bribes totalling millions of dollars (Steffen Schmidt/Keystone/AP)
The Swiss Federal Office of Justice says US authorities suspect the Fifa officials of receiving or paying bribes totalling millions of dollars (Steffen Schmidt/Keystone/AP)

European football's governing body has said the election to choose a new president for international organisation Fifa should be postponed following the arrest of soccer officials in Zurich.

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Uefa general secretary Gianni Infantino said the corruption investigations into Fifa "tarnish the image of football as a whole" and said European football associations will debate tomorrow whether to boycott this week's Fifa congress in the Swiss city.

Mr Infantino said Uefa's executive committee, which met today wants "a change to the leadership" of Fifa, with the congress to be postponed and new elections held within six months.

Uefa's leadership has supported Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein of Jordan in the Fifa ballot scheduled for Friday, where Fifa president Sepp Blatter is strongly favoured to win a fifth, four-year term.

Swiss prosecutors have opened criminal proceedings into Fifa's awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, after seven football officials were arrested pending extradition to the US in a separate probe of "rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted" corruption.

The Swiss prosecutors' office said in a statement they seized "electronic data and documents" at Fifa's headquarters today as part of their probe.

And Swiss police said they will question 10 Fifa executive committee members who took part in the World Cup votes in December 2010.

The Swiss investigation against "persons unknown on suspicion of criminal mismanagement and of money laundering" again throws into the doubt the integrity of the voting.

"Fifa is fully co-operating with the investigation and is supporting the collection of evidence in this regard," Fifa said in a statement.

The Swiss announcement came only hours after 14 people were indicted in the US for corruption. Seven of them were arrested and detained by Swiss police at the request of US authorities after a raid at a luxury hotel in Zurich.

The US Department of Justice said in a statement that two current Fifa vice presidents were among those arrested and indicted, Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands and Eugenio Figueredo of Uruguay. The others are Eduardo Li of Costa Rica, Julio Rocha of Nicaragua, Costas Takkas of Britain, Rafael Esquivel of Venezuela and Jose Maria Marin of Brazil.

All seven are connected with the regional confederations of North and South America and face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

"The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States," US attorney general Loretta E Lynch said in the statement. "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."

The Swiss justice ministry said six of the seven officials arrested oppose extradition to the United States, adding that US authorities now have 40 days to submit the formal extradition request.

One of those detained, who was unidentified, agreed to "a simplified extradition procedure", meaning he can be sent to the US in the coming days.

Nine of the 14 that were indicted by the US Justice Department are football officials, while four are sports marketing executives and another works in broadcasting. Jack Warner, a former Fifa vice president from Trinidad and Tobago, was among those indicted.

The Swiss prosecutors' office said the US probe was separate from its investigation but that authorities were working together.

The votes to award the World Cups to Russia and Qatar have been surrounded in controversy and accusations of corruption.

Qatar, a tiny Gulf nation with little football tradition, was criticised from the start for its extreme summer heat. Fifa has since been forced to move the tournament to November-December instead of the usual June-July time slot.

Fifa also hired US lawyer Michael Garcia to investigate the 2018 and 2022 bid process. His findings were never fully released and both Russia and Qatar were confirmed as hosts. Mr Garcia's full report was turned over to Swiss authorities in November, prompting today's raid on Fifa headquarters.

Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko, who is also a Fifa executive committee member, told the Associated Press "we've got nothing to hide".

"We're prepared to show everything," Mr Mutko said. "We've always acted within the law."

Qatari football officials declined to comment.

The US case involves bribes "totalling more than 100 million US dollars" linked to commercial deals dating back to the 1990s for football tournaments in the United States and Latin America, the Swiss Federal Office of Justice said. The Justice Department said the corruption is linked to World Cup qualifying matches and the Copa America - South America's continental championship.

Prosecutors in New York said they had uncovered a dozen different schemes during its investigation, and some involved the awarding of the 2010 World Cup. South Africa, with the backing of Nelson Mandela, beat rival bids from Morocco and Egypt to host the tournament in 2010, four years after narrowly losing out to Germany for the previous tournament.

Dozens of football officials are in Switzerland for the Fifa congress and presidential election.

Mr Blatter had been scheduled to attend a meeting of the Confederation of African Football in a central Zurich hotel, but he cancelled his appearance. He later cancelled his plans to attend a meeting of the South American confederation.

His only opponent in Friday's presidential election, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, seized on the situation to push his candidacy.

"We cannot continue with the crisis in Fifa, a crisis that has been ongoing and is not just relevant to the events of today," Prince Ali said in a statement. "Fifa needs leadership that governs, guides and protects our national associations ... Leadership that restores confidence in the hundreds of millions of football fans around the world."

The arrests were made at the lakeside Baur au Lac Hotel in Zurich, long favoured as a place for senior Fifa officials to stay. It was the stage for intense lobbying for votes ahead of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting decisions.

In Florida, a small group of agents from the FBI and IRS executed search warrants at Concacaf headquarters in Miami Beach.

Neither agency offered comment on the investigation.

The North American regional body, known as Concacaf, reported itself to US tax authorities in 2012. Then based in New York, the organisation had not paid taxes over several years when its president was Warner and secretary general was Chuck Blazer of the United States.

Warner left football in 2011 to avoid Fifa sanctions in a bribery scandal during that year's presidential election. Blazer left in 2013 and has pleaded guilty to charges, the US Justice Department said today.

Warner's successor as Concacaf leader and Fifa vice president is Webb, who was staying at the Baur au Lac this week.

The Swiss Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) said in its statement that US authorities suspect the arrested officials of having received or paid bribes totalling millions of dollars and that the crimes were agreed to and prepared in the US, and payments carried out via US banks.

"The bribery suspects - representatives of sports media and sports promotion firms - are alleged to have been involved in schemes to make payments to the football functionaries (Fifa delegates) and other functionaries of Fifa sub-organisations - totalling more than USD 100 million (£65 million)," the FOJ statement said.

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