Swiss police entered a luxury hotel in Zurich on Wednesday and arrested seven FIFA officials on charges such as racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering in a case that involves more than $150 million in bribes. The Justice Department announced it was indicting 14 people. Afterward, Swiss prosecutors opened their own criminal proceedings. Gwen Ifill reports.
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The indictments of officials at soccer’s international governing body were a stunning blow to the sport, and prosecutors promised it is just the beginning.
It’s the world’s most popular sport, run by a powerful group that rakes in billions of dollars. But the U.S. attorney general and FBI director say the beautiful game is also involved in some dirty business. They spoke this morning in Brooklyn.
LORETTA LYNCH, Attorney General:
We are here to announce the unsealing of charges and the arrest of individuals as part of our long-running investigation into bribery and corruption in the world of organized soccer.
The Justice Department’s 47-count indictment charged 14 people: nine of international soccer’s top officials and five sports marketing executives.
The charges include racketeering, wire fraud, money laundering, and other offenses. It’s a case that involves more than $150 million in bribes, doled out over decades, for media and marketing rights to various tournaments.
Just hours before the U.S. authorities spoke, Swiss police entered a luxury hotel in Zurich, and arrested seven FIFA officials, who will be extradited to the U.S.
They were expected to uphold the rules that keep soccer honest and to protect the integrity of the game. Instead, they corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their interests and to enrich themselves.
FIFA president Joseph “Sepp” Blatter said, in a statement: “Such misconduct has no place in football and we will ensure that those who engage in it are put out of the game.” Blatter will seek reelection to a fifth term Friday. But Europe’s main soccer federation has called for a postponement.
Blatter, whose 17-year rule has been marred by corruption scandals, is not charged in the U.S. indictment.
Among those who were, Jeffrey Webb and Jack Warner, the current and former presidents of CONCACAF, which runs soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean. Warner turned himself in late today to authorities in Trinidad. FBI agents searched that organization’s Miami headquarters this morning.
FBI Director James Comey spoke in New York.
JAMES COMEY, FBI Director:
The game, according to the allegations in this indictment, was hijacked. That field that is so famously flat was made tilted in favor of those who were looking to gain at the expense of countries and kids who were enjoying the game of soccer.
Charles Blazer, a former U.S. representative on FIFA’s Executive Committee, was one of four people who’s already pleaded guilty. He’d been helping the FBI since leaving soccer in 2013.
After the U.S. announcement, Swiss prosecutors opened their own criminal proceedings into the highly criticized decisions to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.