FIFA has been plunged into the biggest meltdown in its scandal-hit history after a wave of arrests of football officials in Zurich on corruption charges.
Seven officials including FIFA vice-president Jeffrey Webb from the Cayman Islands were arrested by Swiss authorities on behalf of the US Department of Justice which has indicted 18 people alleging bribery totalling more than $150 million.
In a separate development, the Swiss attorney general also opened criminal proceedings over the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar and seized documents and electronic data from FIFA’s headquarters and will question 10 current FIFA executive committee members who voted on that tournament.
The twin proceedings have cast FIFA into a state of crisis ahead of Friday’s presidential election but the world governing body has said the vote, where incumbent Sepp Blatter is facing Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan, will go ahead.
A day of drama began at dawn in Zurich when Swiss law enforcement officers swooped on the five-star Baur au Lac hotel and arrested the seven officials for alleged racketeering, conspiracy and corruption ahead of planned extradition to the USA.
The US Department of Justice’s office of public affairs confirmed 50-year-old Webb was among those arrested at the request of the United States along with another FIFA vice-president Eugenio Figueredo from Uruguay, Costa Rica’s Eduardo Li who was due to become a FIFA member on Friday, and Brazilian FA deputy president Jose Maria Marin. The other officials were named as Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Rafael Esquivel.
In total nine FIFA officials or former officials and five corporate executives have been indicted, including disgraced former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner from Trinidad. A further four have already pleaded guilty to charges including Chuck Blazer, the ‘super-grass’ believed to have provided much of the evidence for the FBI investigation, and Warner’s two sons Daryll and Daryan Warner.
US attorney general Loretta Lynch said the indictment alleged “corruption that is rampant, systemic and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States” and that 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”.