Swiss authorities arrested 14 FIFA officials for bribery and corruption charges on Wednesday morning.
The arrests were conducted during an early morning raid at a luxury hotel in Zurich, where the soccer governing body was getting ready to hold its next presidential election.
The officials will be extradited to the United States on federal corruption charges. Those arrested include two current FIFA VPs and the current and former presidents of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF); FIFA president Sepp Blatter was not among those arrested. The U.S. Justice Department unsealed a 47 count indictment that charged the 14 defendants (nine FIFA officials, five corporate executives) with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies, among other offenses, “in connection with the defendants’ participation in a 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer.”
“The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States,” said 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."
“Many of the individuals and organizations…were entrusted with keeping soccer open and accessible to all,” said Lynch. “They held important responsibilities at every level, from building soccer fields for children in developing countries to organizing the World Cup. They were expected to uphold the rules that keep soccer honest, and protect the integrity of the game. Instead, they corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their interests and enrich themselves. This Department of Justice is determined to end these practices; to root out corruption; and to bring wrongdoers to justice. “
Lynch said the offending executives included “sports marketing executives who, according to the indictment, paid millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks to obtain lucrative media and marketing rights to international soccer tournaments.”
The full statement from the DOJ can be read here.
The arrests, which came following a three-year investigation, came a few days before the organization was to hold its presidential election. Sepp Blatter, who has run FIFA since 1998, is widely expected to win another term, even though his tenure has been riddled with scandal including accusations of corruption and bribery.
This was especially prevalent during FIFA’s selection of Middle Eastern country Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup, which has forced the tournament to relocate to the winter months to avoid the harsh Qatari summer; there have also been numerous human rights violations and accusations of slave labor being used to construct the stadiums for the tournament.
This scandal also comes less than two weeks before the kick off the Women’s World Cup from Canada, the first that will be carried by Fox in the U.S.
"This is a difficult time for football, the fans and for FIFA as an organisation. We understand the disappointment that many have expressed and I know that the events of today will impact the way in which many people view us,” said Blatter in a statement released Wednesday. "As unfortunate as these events are, it should be clear that we welcome the actions and the investigations by the US and Swiss authorities and believe that it will help to reinforce measures that FIFA has already taken to root out any wrongdoing in football."