The rumors of corruption plaguing FIFA have finally come to a head following the arrest of seven top soccer officials on Wednesday at a hotel in Switzerland. The seven officials will be extradited to the United States on federal corruption charges alleging widespread corruption spanning two decades -- including bids for World Cups and marketing and broadcast deals -- throughout the organization. The charges, part of a 47-count indictment unsealed Wednesday morning in New York, include racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering. Sports-marketing executives from the United States and South America were also named in the indictment, accused of paying more than $150 million in bribes and kickbacks in order to receive media deals during major soccer tournaments.
“Today’s announcement should send a message that enough is enough,” acting U.S. attorney Kelly T. Currie said in a statement. “After decades of what the indictment alleges to be brazen corruption, organized international soccer needs a new start – a new chance for its governing institutions to provide honest oversight and support of a sport that is beloved across the world, increasingly so here in the United States. Let me be clear: this indictment is not the final chapter in our investigation.”
Hours after the arrests were made, Swiss officials announced that they had opened criminal cases related to the bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. According to Swiss officials, “electronic data and documents were seized today at FIFA’s head office in Zurich.”
The seven arrested are connected with regional confederations of North and South America and face up to 20 years in prison if they are convicted of the charges. In total, the indictment charges nine FIFA officials and five corporate executives, six of whom have already entered guilty pleas.
According to the United States Justice Department, the corruption is linked to World Cup qualifying matches, as well as the Copa America, the continental championship of South America. U.S. authorities suspect that the arrested officials received or paid bribes totaling millions of dollars and that the bribes were agreed to and prepared in the U.S., and payments were carried out through U.S. banks.
“When leaders in an organization resort to cheating the very members that they are supposed to represent, they must be held accountable,” said Richard Weber, chief of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation. “Corruption, tax evasion and money laundering are certainly not the cornerstones of any successful business. Whether you call it soccer or football, the fans, players and sponsors around the world who love this game should not have to worry about officials corrupting their sport. This case isn't about soccer, it is about fairness and following the law. IRS-CI will continue to investigate financial crimes and follow the money wherever it may lead around the world, leveling the playing field for those who obey the law.”
In addition to the search of FIFA’s headquarters by Swiss officials, United States officials executed search warrants at CONCACAF headquarters in Miami Beach. CONCACAF is the North American regional body and reported itself in 2012 to U.S. tax authorities. CONCACAF’s former president left the soccer world in 2011 to avoid FIFA sanctions as a result of a bribery scandal associated with the election for the FIFA presidential position of that year. The former secretary general of CONCACAF left the organization in 2013 and pleaded guilty to charges.
Current FIFA president Sepp Blatter was not arrested or indicted and is expected to remain president of the organization.
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