FIFA Officials Arrested in a Swiss Hotel, Set To Be Extradited to United States
Six FIFA officials were arrested in Switzerland in the early morning hours of Wednesday morning Swiss-time. According to the New York Times, they have been indicted on charges of “RICO conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering conspiracy, money laundering and obstruction of justice charges.” If convicted, each faces a maximum of 20 years of incarceration.
Swiss authorities have said they carried out the raid in a Zurich’s Baur au Lac Hotel, and they plan to extradite those 6 international officials to the United States to face corruption charges.
The men thought to have been arrested in the raid are Eduardo Li of Costa Rica, executive committee vice president Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands, executive committee vice president Eugenio Figueredo of Uruguay, Eduardo Li of Costa Rica, Julio Rocha of Nicaragua, Rafael Esquivel of Venezuela, Jose Maria Marin of Brazil, and Costas Takkas of Britain.
Jack Warner Indicted, But Not Arrested
Updating previous reports, Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago has been indicted on charges stemming from an investigation of CONCACAF, but not arrested. CONCACAF is the North American, Central American, and Caribbean division of FIFA. While Warner has not been questioned in the case, two of his sons, Daryan Warner and Daryll Warner, are in U.S. custody and have pleaded guilty in the same case.
Warner released a statement, protesting his innocence and the lack of consideration given to him by US authorities. Warner’s statement read, “I have been afforded no due process and I have not even been questioned in this matter. I reiterate that I am innocent of any charges. I have walked away from the politics of world football to immerse myself in the improvement of lives in this country where I shall, God willing, die.”
He gave a brief interview to the Associated Press via phone. Warner, who left FIFA to avoid sanctions in a bribery scandal in 2011 just days before Blatter’s latest reelection, had been critical of Sepp Blatter during that process. When asked by the AP about his sons’ guilty pleas, Warner said, “I can’t say anything about what I don’t know about.”
At the moment, Jack Warner represents the Chaguanas West District in Parliament in his native Trinidad. When his parliamentary term ends on July 17, he would be eligible to be extradited to the United States under a bilateral treaty. Despite that possibility, Warner was defiant in an interview with TV 6, saying US officials “know where to find me“.
He added the kind of statement sure to irritate longtime detractors in global soccer, “I sleep very soundly in the night.”
Sepp Blatter Not Charged at Present
Sepp Blatter is not one of those who has been charged. Given the extradition treaty between Switzerland and the United States and the obvious repudiation of Blatter’s reign as FIFA president by Swiss authorities working on the case, the arrest of six of his top committee members bodes ill for Blatter’s long term prospects.
History of FIFA Corruption
Those familiar with international football know that FIFA, or the Federation Internationale de Football Association, is the organizer of international football tournaments, most famously the World Cup. FIFA has arranged every World Cup since 1930, conducting a bidding process for the right to host the world’s largest soccer tournament. While the organization has a history of corruption, FIFA is considered by many football fans and the international sports media to be at the pinnacle of corruption. The figure most associated with that corruption is Sepp Blatter, who was first elected President of FIFA in 1998.
Mr. Blatter subsequently was reelected to the presidency of FIFA in 2002, 2007, and 2011. On Friday, the 79-year old Swiss citizen is standing for his 5th term as FIFA President. It is assumed Blatter’s reelection is all-but-certain, given the fact no one is running against him and Blatter is thought to have an iron grip on FIFA itself.
Sepp Blatter’s Plight
As the arrests became known throughout the sports world, top news sources have sent reporters flocking to Zurich to learn details. No news could affect international football more profoundly, given the organization’s connection to the World Cup.
In recent years, Sepp Blatter and cohorts have been accused of bribery due to their awarding the 2018 World Cup to Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. While the International Olympic Committee (also known for bribery) awarded the 2014 Winter Olympics to Russia, the decision to hold a World Cup in Qatar drew particularly outrage from fans.
2022 Qatar Scandal
In the months when the World Cup is normally held, the temperature in Qatar regularly reaches 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Such temperatures would naturally put football players in danger of injury or death, because they must frequently sprint for 90 minutes and are sometimes known to run 7 miles in a game. The same could be said for the crowds attending the matches. Even if no one died from the heat, the quality of the matches would no doubt be far below World Cup standards. FIFA, facing months of fan outrage, eventually forced the European football federations to change their schedules for the 2022 season, to move the World Cup into the middle of the winter months, disrupting seasons. Fans, clubs, and leagues would be punished for FIFA’s corruption.
While the Qatar situation seemed to bring fan outrage to a boil, the corruption allegations for the Blatter Era go back a long way. The list of current and former FIFA officials accused of corruption by insiders or media outlets in the past few years includes Jack Warner, Nicolas Leoz, Ricardo Teixeira, Worawi Makudi, Mohamed Bin Hammam, and Joao Havelange.
Those Exposing Their Crimes
A number of prominent figures have criticized FIFA or called for investigations in the 2022 World Cup process, including British MP Lord Triesman, Fred Lunn (VP of Bahamas Football Association), Argentine great Diego Maradona, Bayern Munich President Uli Hoeness, UEFA Secretary Gianni Infantino, IOC President Jacques Rogge, Australian Sports Minister Mark Arbib, Australian Senator Nick Xenophon, President of the German Football Association Theo Zwanziger, and UK media member Dave Zirin,
The 2006 book Foul! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote-Rigging and Ticket Scandals by UK investigative reporter Andrew Jennings was an early expose on FIFA’s excesses. Newspaper reports by the Sunday Times and television broadcasts by BBC Panorama have been instrumental in bringing international attention on the graft and corruption in FIFA.
Meanwhile, while the various media firms were putting the spotlight on FIFA’s corruption, U.S. officials were working on a case. One law enforcement official involved in the investigation said, “We’re struck by just how long this went on for and how it touched nearly every part of what FIFA did. It just seemed to permeate every element of the federation and was just their way of doing business. It seems like this corruption was institutionalized.”
Now, a few days short of Sepp Blatter’s next reelection vote, the US and Swiss authorities have moved to arrest six FIFA officials, with more arrests likely to happen.
US Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s Role
The key moment in the investigations appears to have been Loretta Lynch’s ascension to become the U.S. Attorney General in April 2015. Judge Lynch oversaw the investigation of FIFA officials when she was an U.S. District Judge in New York City. Given her choice of selecting her first big case, Attorney General Lynch chose the FIFA case.
US Attorney Generals are a power unto themselves. They are the chief prosecutor in the United States with a cabinet level position, 7th in line to succeed the President. Despite that, officials tend to need cases to stamp their imprint on the position. Lynch could stake her reputation as AG on the FIFA investigation, while putting the full resources of the U.S. Justice Department behind bringing the FIFA officials to justice.
In her Wednesday press conference to announce the arrests, AG Loretta Lynch said the corruption in these cases goes back at least 24 years, in which these FIFA officials have “corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their interests and to enrich themselves….They did this over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament.”
How Swizz Extradition Works
Though people are often portrayed in Hollywood movies as having Swiss bank accounts and running to the Swiss Alps to seek extradition immunity, Switzerland has an extradition treaty with the United States. That treaty states that Switzerland can choose whether to extradite those seeking sanctuary from US authorities in the case of purely economic cases. In criminal cases, Switzerland extradites alleged criminals back to the USA.
Therefore, Swiss authorities gathered in the lobby of the Baur au Lac Hotel in Zurich on Wednesday morning and began to arrest FIFA officials. Those officials were in town to vote Sepp Blatter back into office. Once back in the United States, those officials are going to start figuring out how to save their own necks. Due to the massive corruption surrounding FIFA, all should have world-class lawyers. Those lawyers are each going to plot the best strategy for their particular client, and some might seek plea bargains.
In the United States, a plea bargain deal often involves lightening a sentence for a lower-ranked person in an organization, if they give evidence against a superior. The idea is to get the ringleaders, to make those who masterminded and orchestrated crimes to answer for what they have done.
Blatter’s Colleages Will Talk
It is only a matter of time before the investigatory spotlight turns on Sepp Blatter. Some of his former minions are going to talk to authorities, hoping to save their own skins. While Blatter could hold power over the officials when it was a matter of helping them maintain their positions in FIFA, none of that matters when they are facing long sentences in a US prison. Some of these officials will cooperate in taking down Sepp Blatter.
When the time comes, it appears that Swiss officials are happy to arrest FIFA officials and extradite them. It would be a surprise if Blatter’s case were any different. The fact of the matter is, Sepp Blatter has been so brazen about this corruption that it has offended people at all levels of society, from the higher-ups in politics to the average fan watching games at home. Unless his vast ill-gotten wealth can save him (and it might), Sepp Blatter is going to have no one sympathetic to his plight.
What FIFA Arrests Mean for Sports Betting
If FIFA is purged of its most corrupting influences, it might be able to return to doing what it was built to do: place tournaments in the best venues, organize the best events possible, and assure the integrity of the game.
Despite having a $1.5 billion in cash to police the international game, officials and match-fixers alike have complained that FIFA does not do enough to police the game. FIFA has been criticized for letting its 209 member to police themselves when it came to match-fixing which affects the sports betting scene.
Lax Match-Fixing Provisions
Though its officials have not been accused of high-level corruption in the match-fixing scandals of the past, they have been lax. One gets the impression FIFA officials are more concerned with maintaining their own power base and collecting bribes than policing the sport. For instance, weeks prior to the 2014 Brazilian World Cup, a 23-page report called “Specific Recommendations to Combat Match Manipulation” was produced for FIFA’s members. But the organization failed to mail out the reports to its members. Apparently, international mail prices are too much for an organization with $1.5 billion in the bank.
Wilson Raj Perumal, a convicted match-fixer who was arrested in 2014 after years of fixing matches, told the Wall Street Journal, “FIFA could be doing a lot of things to stop international friendlies from being manipulated.”
When the match-fixers criticize FIFA for their lack of oversight, you know their organization is doing a poor job. If Sepp Blatter and his minions eventually are driven out of the sports of football, then perhaps sports betting on the World Cup and international friendlies might be safer. And while they’re at it, perhaps a late decision can be made to move the 2022 World Cup out of Qatar.
Say what you will about the United States, but in this one case, the US justice system might help to restore sanity to the sport of football. International football fans might scoff at the U.S. National Team, but for once, all football fans around the globe are likely to applaud the Americans on this case.
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