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Saturday 10 December 2016

World football chiefs arrested in Fifa corruption probe

Published 04/12/2015 | 03:41

US attorney general Loretta Lynch said the scale of alleged corruption was 'unconscionable' (AP)
US attorney general Loretta Lynch said the scale of alleged corruption was 'unconscionable' (AP)

Swiss government agents have swept into a luxury hotel for a pre-dawn second wave of arrests on corruption charges as members of Fifa's executive committee prepared to vote on reforming football's scandal-plagued governing body.

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The arrests were linked to US prosecutors' widening probe into football corruption, with f ive current and former members of Fifa 's ruling executive committee among 16 additional men accused of bribes and corrupt payments.

The 92-count US indictment took down an entire generation of football leaders in South America, a bedrock of Fifa and World Cup history.

"The betrayal of trust set forth here is truly outrageous," US attorney general Loretta Lynch said. "The scale of corruption alleged herein is unconscionable."

In Switzerland, Juan Angel Napout of Paraguay, president of the South American confederation (CONMEBOL) and Alfredo Hawit of Honduras, head of the North and Central American and Caribbean governing body (CONCACAF) were led away by police who swooped on Zurich's Baur au Lac hotel.

The arrests - at the same hotel where initial raid took place in May - came just before Fifa's executive committee met to approve reform and transparency measures long resisted by football's top leaders, but ones that gained traction in the aftermath of the scandal.

Rafael Callejas, Honduras' president from 1990-94 and a current member of Fifa's television and marketing committee, was indicted, as was Hector Trujillo, a judge on Guatemala's constitutional court.

Also among those charged was Ricardo Teixeira, the president of Brazilian soccer from 1994-2012. He is a former son-in-law of Joao Havelange, who was Fifa's president from 1974-98.

In addition, guilty pleas were unsealed for former Concacaf president Jeffrey Webb and former executive committee member Luis Bedoya.

Eleven current and former members of Fifa 's executive committee have been charged in the investigation, which says hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal payments over the past 25 years involved the use of US banks and meetings on American soil. The last three presidents of Concacaf and Conmebol have been indicted.

"The message from this announcement should be clear to every culpable individual who remains in the shadows, hoping to evade this ongoing investigation: You will not wait us out and you will not escape our focus," Ms Lynch said.

Honduras said the US had requested Mr Callejas' extradition and the country would co-operate with Washington. "Nobody is above the law," President Juan Orlando Hernandez's government said in a statement.

At a news conference in the capital Tegucigalpa, Mr Callejas said his lawyers were studying the accusations and considering what steps to take.

"I will fight unwaveringly to clear up my legal situation in the United States," he said.

Fourteen men were charged in May, when four additional guilty pleas were unsealed, with prosecutors alleging bribes involving the media and marketing rights for the Copa America, the Concacaf Gold Cup, World Cup qualifiers and other competitions.

Eight more guilty pleas were unsealed on Thursday, including three by men indicted in May: Webb, marketing executive Alejandro Burzaco and Jose Margulies, described by prosecutors as an intermediary.

Also pleading guilty were Bedoya and former Chilean federation president Sergio Jadue.

Webb, a Cayman Islands citizen who has been released on bail and is largely restricted to his home in Stone Mountain, Georgia, admitted racketeering conspiracy, three counts of wire fraud conspiracy and three counts of money laundering conspiracy. He agreed to forfeit more than 6.7 million dollars (£4.4m).

Zorana Danis, co-founder and owner of New Jersey-based International Soccer Marketing, admitted wire fraud conspiracy and filing false tax returns. She agreed to forfeit two million dollars (£1.3m).

Fifa president Sepp Blatter, elected on May 29 to a fifth term running through 2019, said on June 2 that he would leave office when a successor was chosen.

He was provisionally suspended by Fifa on October 8 for 90 days as part of a separate investigation into a two million-dollar payment in 2011 to European soccer head Michel Platini, who hoped to succeed him when Fifa's 209 member nations vote on February 26. Mr Blatter is also facing Swiss criminal proceedings.

Mr Blatter and Mr Platini face lifetime bans from football at ethics hearings expected this month. Ms Lynch would not respond directly to Mr Blatter's allegation that the inquiry resulted from US anger at losing to Qatar when the executive committee chose the 2022 World Cup host.

"I think he's probably spending a lot of time reading through" the indictment, she said at a news conference.

The indictments list a who's who of soccer executives. "We still have a number of avenues under investigation," Ms Lynch said.

Among those charged were Marco Polo del Nero, a Brazilian who served on the executive committee from 2012 until last week; Rafael Salguero, a Guatemalan who left the executive committee in May; former South American confederation secretary general Eduardo Deluca; former Peru soccer federation president Manuel Burga; and current Bolivian soccer president Carlos Chaves, already jailed in his own country for embezzlement.

Mr Napout and Mr Hawit opposed extradition to the United States at Zurich police hearings, Switzerland's justice ministry said.

"According to the US arrest requests, they are suspected of accepting bribes of millions of dollars," the ministry said. "Some of the offences were agreed and prepared in the USA. Payments were also processed via US banks."

The bribes are linked to marketing rights for the Copa America - including the 2016 edition hosted in the US - and World Cup qualifying matches.

Mr Hawit also was charged with attempting to obstruct the grand jury investigation by attempting in July to corruptly influence testimony before the grand jury.

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