Swiss police have raided a Zurich hotel where the top officials from the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) were staying ahead, arresting them to face corruption charges in the United States.
The executive of soccer’s governing body was gathering for its annual congress, where FIFA’s 79-year-old president, Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, was expected to be returned for a fifth term, despite persistent allegations of bribery and corruption embroiling the organisation, especially over the decision to award Qatar the 2022 World Cup.
Blatter is not believed to be among those detained by Swiss authorities, who have an extradition treaty with the US.
The New York Times reports that more than a dozen plain-clothed police entered the five-star Baur au Lac hotel, taking some people away in handcuffs and that more than 10 current and former FIFA officials are expected to face federal criminal charges following an investigation by the US IRS and FBI.
The US Justice Department indictment is believed to involve wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering, over World Cup bids, along with marketing and broadcast arrangements and will be revealed in a New York federal court on Thursday by the Brooklyn US attorney’s office.
Not everyone likely to face charges was in Zurich.
Last year, an independent investigation into claims of vote buying in 2010 over awarding the 2022 World Cup was held, but the results were not released. Instead the head of FIFA’s ethics committee produced an executive report of the investigation that essentially gave the organisation a clean bill of health, despite findings of wrongdoing against the Qatari and Russian bid committees. Former US federal prosecutor Michael Garcia, who produced the still unreleased report, resigned in protest against the way it was handled.
One of the few FIFA executives damaged by corruption claims in recent years was Qatari Mohamed bin Hammam, the former Asian Football Confederation president, who challenged Blatter for the presidency in 2011, and was accused of bribing others for votes. He resigned his positions and was banned for life by FIFA, but that decision was overturned on appeal.
The raid will undoubtedly damage Blatter’s standing ahead of the presidential election on Friday, with Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan a rival for the top job at the world’s most powerful sports organisation, which is believed to have $1.5 billion in cash reserve. FIFA have revenues of $5.7 billion between 2011 and 2014 and is a non-profit organisation.
It’s believed a former American FIFA executive member of 21 years standing, Charles “Chuck” Blazer, was helping US authorities with their investigations. It was Blazer who blew the whistle on Mohamed bin Hammam, but subsequently was suspended from FIFA and resigned, following investigations into financial irregularities involving CONCACAF (the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football).
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