Day of reckoning for besieged FIFA

 
Ross McLean
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Communications director Walter de Gregorio insisted that Fifa’s presidential election will go ahead despite yesterday’s seismic events
▪ Seven officials arrested as criminal proceedings brought

▪ The presidential election will take place as planned

WORLD governing body Fifa was in unprecedented turmoil last night after a day of drama and intrigue saw seven serving officials of the scandal-ridden organisation arrested in Switzerland on corruption charges.

Dawn raids of the five-star Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich were initiated by Swiss authorities on behalf of the United States Department of Justice, which has indicted 18 people for alleged bribery totalling more than $150m, stretching back 24 years.

In a two-pronged assault, the Swiss attorney general also opened criminal proceedings over the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively and seized documents and electronic data from Fifa headquarters.

Fifa vice-presidents Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands and Uruguay’s Eugenio Figueredo headed the list of arrested officials for alleged racketeering, conspiracy and corruption ahead of their planned extradition to the United States.

The group of seven also included Costa Rica’s Eduardo Li, Brazilian Football Association deputy president Jose Maria Marin as well as Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas and Rafael Esquivel.

In total, nine current or former Fifa officials and five corporate executives have been indicted, including disgraced ex-vice president Jack Warner. A further four have already pleaded guilty and potentially face prison sentences of up to 20 years.

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

“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. Today’s action makes clear that this Department of Justice intends to end any such corrupt practices, to root out misconduct, and to bring wrongdoers to justice.”

FBI director James B. Comey added: “As charged in the indictment, the defendants fostered a culture of corruption and greed that created an uneven playing field for the biggest sport in the world.

“Undisclosed and illegal payments, kickbacks and bribes became a way of doing business at Fifa. When leaders in an organisation resort to cheating the very members that they were supposed to represent, they must be held accountable.”

The Swiss attorney general also confirmed that officers have opened criminal proceedings on suspicion of criminal mismanagement in connection with the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups by the executive committee in 2010.

“There are also suspicions of money laundering through Swiss bank accounts,” read a statement by the Swiss attorney general.

“Subsequently to today’s seizure of files, the Office of the Attorney General and the Swiss Federal Criminal Police will be questioning 10 persons who took part in voting on the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups as members of the Executive Committee.”

Despite the state of crisis which Fifa finds itself in, the governing body has insisted that tomorrow’s presidential election, in which incumbent Sepp Blatter faces a challenge from Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein of Jordan, will take place as scheduled.

“The election will take place as planned. The World Cups in 2018 and 2022 will be played in Russia and Qatar,” said Fifa communications director Walter de Gregorio at a news conference in Zurich yesterday. De Gregorio also confirmed that Blatter was not among the accused, saying: “He is not involved at all.”

THE KEY QUESTIONS ON FIFA CORRUPTION STORM

WHO AND WHAT IS BEING INVESTIGATED?
The Department of Justice in the United States has indicted 18 people for alleged bribery. In total, nine current or former Fifa officials and five corporate executives have been indicted. Dawn raids yesterday saw seven serving Fifa officials arrested on corruption charges. In addition, the Swiss attorney general has opened criminal proceedings over the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR FIFA?
At the moment that remains unclear. While there has been the consistent presence of corruption allegations made about Fifa in the British press, principally by the Sunday Times, these events represent an unprecedented threat to the organisation’s credibility. They have the potential to cause the biggest ever shake-up in its history.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR SEPP BLATTER?
At the moment nothing. Fifa vehemently insist that its much-maligned president is not affected by the corruption allegations and has not been accused in any way. But that could always change of course should any of his key aids or officials be taken down. Fifa are adamant that tomorrow’s presidential election between Blatter and Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein of Jordan will go ahead as planned.

AND THE 2018 AND 2022 WORLD CUPS?
The bidding processes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar respectively have been the constant source of speculation and intrigue. In a press conference in Zurich yesterday, Fifa communications director Walter de Gregorio insisted there will no re-vote despite Swiss authorities launching criminal proceedings over the bidding processes for both tournaments.