Swiss police have arrested the two top soccer bosses in the Americas on suspicion of taking millions of dollars in bribes linked to television rights, widening a graft probe into world soccer's governing body.Switzerland's Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) named the men as Alfredo Hawit of Honduras, acting president of the CONCACAF region and a FIFA vice-president, and Juan Angel Napout of Paraguay, head of the South American soccer federation CONMEBOL.
The officials were detained in pre-dawn raids at the behest of the US Department of Justice. The FOJ said it would ask the United States to submit a formal extradition request within 40 days, which both men had said they would resist.
The FOJ said the allegations were that they took money "in return for selling marketing rights in connection with football tournaments in Latin America, as well as World Cup qualifying matches."
In the United States, the Justice Department named 16 new defendants, all officials from American confederations.
The indictment is believed to deal in part with allegations of corruption in the award of broadcast rights for soccer.
The investigation also unfolded in Miami, where FBI agents searched the office of Media World, an affiliate of Spanish media giant Imagina Group, a source familiar with the matter said. Media World was one of the unidentified sports marketing companies mentioned in a US indictment in May as having agreed to pay a bribe to a high-ranking soccer official in the Americas, sources said in July.
Imagina Group said in a statement that it would dismiss any person who may have committed illegal acts if there were sufficient evidence.
The raid on the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich echoed arrests at the same place in May that plunged FIFA into crisis.
Since then, FIFA's veteran president Sepp Blatter has announced his resignation, he and other officials have been suspended, and a host of criminal probes into FIFA officials have begun, triggering huge external pressure for deep reforms.
The past two CONCACAF heads before Hawit have both been indicted by US authorities. When he was named head of the confederation in May, he said he was "profoundly disappointed by the allegations made by authorities that again, CONCACAF has been the victim of fraud."
The Times quoted law enforcement officials as saying that Blatter, FIFA's long-time president, or Jerome Valcke, his suspended deputy, were not among those charged on Thursday.
Both have been suspended by an internal ethics watchdog, along with European soccer boss Michel Platini. None of them has been charged with a crime and all deny any wrongdoing.
The avalanche of corruption allegations involving FIFA prompted Blatter in June to say he would resign, only days after being re-elected to a fifth term. FIFA is to elect a successor in February.
Swiss authorities said Thursday's arrests were related to alleged offences agreed and prepared in the United States and involving payments processed by US banks. The names of banks involved were not released.
Authorities have said for months they expected to level a second wave of corruption charges in soccer following US charges in May against 14 officials and sports marketing executives with paying and taking bribes.
16 American soccer officials indicted
- Alfredo Hawit: FIFA vice president, CONCACAF president and Honduran citizen.
- Juan Angel Napout: FIFA vice president and CONMEBOL president. From Paraguay.
- Ariel Alvarado: Member of FIFA's disciplinary committee. Former CONCACAF executive committee member.
- Manuel Burga: Member of the FIFA development committee. Former Peruvian soccer federation president.
- Rafael Callejas: Member of the FIFA television and marketing committee.
- Carlos Chavez: CONMEBOL treasurer. Former Bolivian soccer federation president.
- Luis Chiriboga: Ecuadoran soccer federation president and member of CONMEBOL executive committee.
- Marco Polo del Nero: President of Brazilian soccer federation. Resigned from FIFA executive committee last week.
- Eduardo Deluca: Former CONMEBOL general secretary.
- Brayan Jimenez: Guatemalan soccer federation president and FIFA committee for fair play and social responsibility member.
- Jose Luis Meiszner: CONMEBOL general secretary.
- Romer Osuna: Member of the FIFA audit and compliance committee. Former CONMEBOL treasurer.
- Rafael Salguero: Former FIFA executive committee member and Guatemalan soccer federation president.
- Ricardo Teixeira: Former Brazilian soccer federation president and FIFA executive committee member.
- Hector Trujillo: Guatemalan soccer federation general secretary and judge on the constitutional court of Guatemala.
- Reynaldo Vasquez: Former Salvadoran soccer federation president.
The Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich, the scene of dawn raids in May triggered by US indictments, closed its gates after a group of four people, believed to be plainclothes police, went in around 6am local time.
Another group of police then went in through the rear entrance and left half an hour later. Shortly afterwards, two cars with tinted windows were seen leaving the hotel. Reporters could not see who was inside.
FIFA officials routinely use the luxury lakeside hotel and many are in Zurich for an executive committee meeting at which an internal FIFA reforms committee is to present its recommendations.
Leading FIFA sponsors Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, Adidas, Coca-Cola, McDonald's Corp and Visa Inc on Tuesday published an open letter demanding independent oversight of the reform process.
"FIFA will continue to cooperate fully with the US investigation as permitted by Swiss law, as well as with the investigation being led by the Swiss Office of the Attorney General," FIFA said in response to the latest arrests.
US Department of Justice officials were expected to discuss the case at a Washington news conference on Thursday, people familiar with the plans said.
Australian whistleblower Bonita Mersiades says she is not surprised by the latest developments.
The former Australia Football executive told the ABC the only way to rid world football of the drama was to disband FIFA and rebuild it with independent experts.
"There is nothing within FIFA that gives you any confidence or trust that it is able to reform itself or that it is able to get out of this enormously big hole they are in," Mr Mersiades said.
"While it is good that someone who knows and loves and appreciates football is leading it, at this point in time, the organisation needs someone who is an expert in governance and who can push through cultural change come hell or high water."
Investigators are looking into where Australian taxpayers' money went in its bid for the 2022 World Cup.
Ms Mersiades says the Australia federation needs to be more vocal on FIFA's reform.
"You would have thought they would now realise that FIFA is incapable of reforming itself and they would be out there actually advocating for what we have been advocating for, external reform."
Leadership changesSwiss and US authorities are conducting parallel investigations of corruption in soccer, focusing on whether certain business contracts or the World Cup hosting rights for 2018 and 2022 were won with the help of bribery.
Wednesday marked five years since the December 2, 2010, vote in which the FIFA executive committee awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cup finals hosting rights to Russia and Qatar.
The choice of Qatar, a small desert state where summer daytime temperatures rarely fall below 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), was especially contentious and went against the advice of FIFA's own technical committee.
The leaderships of several South American national soccer organizations have been upended. Last week, Marco Polo Del Nero, the head of the Brazilian Football Confederation, resigned his post on FIFA's executive committee amid criticism of his leadership. FIFA's ethics committee opened formal proceedings against him on Nov. 23.
Also last month, the president of the Colombian Football Federation, Luis Bedoya, resigned unexpectedly as a government source said Bedoya had flown to New York. The president of Chile's ANFP national football association, Sergio Jadue, resigned his post and went to the United States to talk to the FBI, Chilean media reported.