Attorney General Lynch Demands Extradition of International Soccer Leaders for Corruption

Thursday, May 28, 2015
Sepp Blatter (photo: Fabrice Coffrini, AFP/Getty Images)

Some of the world’s top soccer officials are likely headed to the United States in handcuffs following their arrest Wednesday in Switzerland and elsewhere on federal corruption charges.

 

Swiss law enforcement officers swept into the ritzy Baur au Lac hotel near Lake Zurich on Wednesday to arrest members of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the governing body for world soccer, which was conducting its annual meeting.

 

Leaders of FIFA have been suspected of taking bribes for at least 24 years in exchange for awarding countries the right to host major soccer tournaments, including the World Cup, and for companies to promote the sport.

 

The U.S. Department of Justice supported the Swiss arrests and Attorney General Loretta Lynch was closely involved in the case. The U.S. government wants the government of Switzerland to extradite the officials to the stand trial in federal court.

 

The extradition seems likely. Switzerland’s treaty with the U.S. states it will deliver criminal suspects as long as the charges are not related to tax evasion.

 

Attorney General Lynch had little trouble explaining why the United States should issue criminal charges against members of an international organization. Among other reasons, the headquarters of CONCACAF, one of FIFA’s six continental confederations, is located in Miami.

 

The Justice Department has indicted 14 people—all of them from the Americas—so far on charges of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy. Conspicuously not mentioned in the indictments was FIFA President Sepp Blatter, whom some call the most powerful person in sports. He might not be out of the woods yet though. One U.S. law enforcement official told The New York Times that Blatter’s fate would “depend on where the investigation goes from here.”

 

Among the soccer officials under arrest are Eduardo Li, Jeffrey Webb, Eugenio Figueredo, Jack Warner, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Rafael Esquivel, José Maria Marin and Nicolás Leoz. Warner turned himself into authorities in Trinidad and Tobago and the Justice Department has sent an extradition request to that country.

 

U.S. officials said more individuals may still be indicted, with another 25 unidentified co-conspirators mentioned in the indictment. “I want to be very clear: This is the beginning,” acting U.S. Attorney Kelly T. Currie said during a news conference Wednesday in Brooklyn.

 

In addition to going after FIFA officials, the indictment includes American and South African sports-marketing executives accused of paying more than $150 million in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for media deals associated with major soccer tournaments.

 

The Times reported that the “schemes involving the fraud included the selection of South Africa as the host of the 2010 World Cup; the 2011 FIFA presidential elections; and several sports-marketing deals.”

 

Swiss authorities announced that they are pursuing a separate investigation relating to the selection, in December 2010, of Russia as the host of the 2018 World Cup and Qatar as the host of the 2022 World Cup, decisions that smacked of corruption from the minute they were announced. In the final round of voting for the 2022 event, Qatar won the votes of 14 members of the FIFA Executive Committee, while 8 members voted for the United States. On Wednesday, the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland seized data and documents from FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich and explained that police will be questioning ten FIFA members who took part in the voting.

 

An election that had been expected to anoint Blatter for another term as FIFA president is scheduled for Friday, but there’s some question at this point whether it will be held as planned.

-Noel Brinkerhoff

 

To Learn More:

After Indicting 14, U.S. Vows to End Graft in FIFA (by Matt Apuzzo and Stephanie Clifford, New York Times)

FIFA Inquiry Yields Indictments; U.S. Officials Vow to Pursue More (by Matt Apuzzo, Stephanie Clifford and William Rashbaum, New York Times)

FBI's FIFA Investigation, Indictment Spawns New Slew of Questions (by Brian Straus, Sports Illustrated)

Nine FIFA Officials and Five Corporate Executives Indicted for Racketeering Conspiracy and Corruption (U.S. Department of Justice)

Indictment: United States v. Jeffrey Webb et al (U.S. Department of Justice) (pdf)

U.S. Prepares Criminal Indictment Alleging Corruption at Soccer Body FIFA (by Aruna Viswanatha and Christopher Matthews, Wall Street Journal)

‘FIFA Is Imploding’: 14 Charged In Corruption Probe, and That Number May Grow (by Tina Susman and Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times)

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