By Mary Cunningham
In 2014, the World Cup soccer tournament mesmerized the planet from Uganda to the United States.
This morning in Switzerland, FIFA, the international soccer organization that oversees the sport, was charged with corruption on a massive scale.
Nine soccer officials and five others were charged in the U.S. on broad corruption charges accusing them of a 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the sport’s top governing body, FIFA, authorities said Wednesday.
Charged defendants include Jeffrey Webb, the head of the regional body for North and Central America and the Caribbean, and Jack Warner, his predecessor. Mr. Webb is also a FIFA vice president.
Six individuals have pleaded guilty in connection with the case, the U.S. Justice Department said.
It added that Swiss authorities in Zurich had earlier Wednesday arrested seven of the defendants charged in the indictment: Jeffrey Webb, Eduardo Li, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Eugenio Figueredo, Rafael Esquivel and José Maria Marin, at the request of the U.S. The DOJ also said a search warrant is being executed at the headquarters of the regional body, CONCACAF, in Miami.
Switzerland’s Federal Office of Justice said earlier Wednesday that those arrested had been detained pending extradition.
In a separate investigation, the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland said Wednesday it had opened criminal proceedings against individuals “on suspicion of criminal mismanagement and of money laundering” in connection with the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, awarded to Russia and Qatar, respectively.
As part of the probe, it seized electronic data and documents from FIFA’s head office in Zurich and said it would question 10 people who took part in the voting. Swiss authorities said they were cooperating with their counterparts in the U.S. and that the information seized could be used in criminal prosecutions in Switzerland and abroad.
A spokesperson for FIFA said “the timing may not be the best” but that the organization welcomed the process and was cooperating fully with the authorities. They added that the organization had no advance warning of the arrests.