Unrest at FIFA as top officials arrested over allegations of corruption charges by a joint Swiss and American taskforce yesterday at a hotel in Zurich, Switzerland just a few days before elections for the world soccer governing body began.
BY STEVE NJUGUNA
A sense of uncertainty gripped football lovers worldwide as 7 top FIFA officials were arrested at the Baur au Lac Hotel in Zurich, Switzerland in an attack coordinated by the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I) and Swiss police. This comes days before the World governing body for soccer is set to have its elections at its headquarters in Zurich.
US security officials said a total of nine soccer officials and five sports media and promotions executives were charged in cases involving more than $150 million in bribes over a period of 24 years. The officials arrested in Zurich are: Jeffrey Webb who is a Vice-President of world body FIFA, President of North and Central American body CONCACAF and head of soccer in the Cayman Islands; Eduardo Li, who is head of Costa Rica’s soccer federation; Julio Rocha, who headed Nicaragua’s federation; Eugenio Figueredo, another FIFA Vice-President who used to run soccer in Uruguay; Rafael Esquivel who is football chair in Venezuela; Jose Maria Marin, who used to be the head of Brazil’s soccer federation; and Costas Takkas, another CONCACAF official. The 7 are to be extradited to the United States of America to face charges despite 6 of them contesting the process.
“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,” FBI Director James Comey said in a press statement.
The United States took jurisdiction of the case in part because the Internal Revenue Service and the FBI secured the cooperation of U.S. citizen Chuck Blazer, a former top FIFA official. They also raided his office in Miami Beach. He is said to have aided the authorities in the investigations by providing information. Swiss prosecutors said they had opened their own criminal proceedings against unidentified people on suspicion of mismanagement and money laundering related to the awarding of rights to host the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. This move is also supported by the United States Government though some would argue that there is bias involved considering the United States of America were rivaling Qatar for award of the 2022 World Cup hosting.
One of the standout incidents from this indictment was that of former FIFA Vice President Jack Warner, a native of Trinidad and Tobago who is alleged to have solicited bribes in the range of 10 to11 million U.S. Dollars in the process of hosting of the 2010 South Africa World Cup. The indictment further says that he and some colleagues conspired to send the money from a FIFA account in Switzerland to a Bank of America account in New York. South African football officials vehemently denied this allegation.
Embattled FIFA President Joseph Blatter, who has denied and survived allegations of his involvement in corruption, said in a statement: “Let me be clear: such misconduct has no place in football and we will ensure that those who engage in it are put out of the game.”
The statement also said that FIFA welcomed the actions and the investigations “…and believe that it will help to reinforce measures that FIFA has already taken to root out any wrongdoing in football.”
The FIFA chair called an emergency meeting to address this incident on Thursday as analysts predict that this might affect his re-election bid as president of FIFA. As the elections draw nearer, it remains to be seen whether support for Blatter will be affected in any way by recent developments.