LONDON — Several officials of FIFA, the body that governs soccer worldwide, have been arrested in Switzerland on charges of corruption initiated by the U.S. Some of the charges relate to media deals for soccer tournaments.
Swiss law-enforcement agents made the arrests Wednesday at the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich, where FIFA officials were gathering for their annual congress. The U.S. will now seek to extradite those arrested.
Fourteen people are set to be charged for offenses that include racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering. Nine are FIFA officials, and four are believed to be marketing executives from the U.S. and South America, who are accused of paying more than $150 million in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for media deals. The final individual is an intermediary who handled illegal payments.
U.S. attorney general Loretta E. Lynch and FBI director James Comey are set to hold a press conference to discuss the arrests on Wednesday in New York. The inquiry is focused mainly on Concacaf, a body that governs soccer across North America, Central America and the Caribbean, and Conmebol, which is the South American soccer confederation.
“The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States,” Lynch said in a statement. “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.”
The Department of Justice emphasized the huge importance to FIFA of revenue from media and marketing rights. For example, 70% of FIFA’s $5.7 billion in total revenues between 2011 and 2014 was attributable to the sale of TV and marketing rights to the 2014 World Cup.
Most of the schemes cited in the Department of Justice indictment relate to the “solicitation and receipt of bribes and kickbacks by soccer officials from sports marketing executives” in connection with the licensing of the media and marketing rights associated with FIFA soccer matches and tournaments.
In a separate development, the Swiss attorney general opened criminal proceedings Wednesday against persons unknown on suspicion of criminal mismanagement and money laundering in connection with the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 Soccer World Cups. Electronic data and documents were seized at FIFA’s head office in Zurich.
The Swiss attorney general’s office and the Swiss federal criminal police will question 10 people who took part in voting on the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and 2022 World Cup to Qatar as members of FIFA’s executive committee in 2010.