PANIC gripped world football’s leaders yesterday after a number of the game’s high-profile bosses were arrested in Zurich, Switzerland, on a dramatic day that laid bare the rampant and systemic corruption choking the globe’s most popular sporting discipline.
FIFA, the world football governing body, was plunged into turmoil as seven powerful soccer figures were arrested on US corruption charges and faced extradition from Switzerland, whose authorities also announced a criminal investigation into the awarding of the World Cup finals.
The arrests of the senior FIFA officials in a morning raid at a five-star Zurich hotel, marked an unprecedented blow against football’s powerful governing body, which for years has been dogged by allegations of corruption, but always escaped major criminal cases.
Since the indictments only involve those officials in North and South America, there are fears that scores of other officials, who are not from that part of the world, will be exposed and shamed when the sensitive information related to this investigation is made public soon.
FIFA vice-president Jeffrey Webb, of the Cayman Islands, was among those arrested and he is the head of the North American regional body, Concacaf, which reported itself to US tax authorities in 2012, for not paying taxes.
Chuck Blazer, who was its secretary-general then, was a central figure in the latest operation by US authorities, being used as a bait to lure corrupt officials into a trap with the American football official even being wired by the FBI who then recorded the conversations of a dirty game involving more than $150 million.
The Department of Justice statement confirmed the FIFA officials charged were Eugenio Figueredo, Jack Warner, Eduardo Li, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Rafael Esquivel, José Maria Marin and Nicolás Leoz.
A further four defendants were the sports marketing executives Alejandro Burzaco, Aaron Davidson, Hugo Jinkis and Mariano Jinkis while a marketing executive, José Marguiles, was charged as an intermediary.
“As charged in the indictment, the defendants fostered a culture of corruption and greed that created an uneven playing field for the biggest sport in the world,” said FBI Director James Comey.
“Undisclosed and illegal payments, kickbacks, and bribes became a way of doing business at FIFA.”
Swiss authorities seized “electronic data and documents” in a raid on FIFA headquarters while bank documents were collected from various Swiss financial institutions.
Swiss police will question 10 members of the FIFA executive committee who took part in the World Cup votes.
The 10 all still current members of Fifa’s ExCo, include senior vice-president and CAF president Issa Hayatou.
The others are Angel Maria Villar Llona (Spain), Michel D’Hooghe (Belgium), Senes Erzik (Turkey), Worawi Makudi (Thailand), Marios Lefkaritis (Cyprus), Jacques Anouma (Cote d’Ivoire), Rafael Salguero (Guatemala) and Hany Abo Rida (Egypt).
In a statement, the Swiss Attorney-General’s Office said the executives were being questioned on suspicion of “criminal mismanagement” and money laundering.
They said their investigation exposed complex money laundering schemes, millions of dollars in untaxed incomes and tens of millions in offshore accounts held by FIFA officials.
African football leaders, who have long been accused of being part of the global cartel that takes bribes in order to influence who wins the FIFA presidency, will also be under the spotlight with CAF president Hayatou under the spotlight.
Scores of African football leaders, including delegates from Zimbabwe — ZIFA president Cuthbert Dube, board member Tavengwa Hara and chief executive Jonathan Mashingaidze — have converged on Zurich for the FIFA Congress.
The dramatic events in Zurich attracted massive interest around the world, dominating headlines with Zimbabwe National Soccer Supporters Association communications executive, Paddington Japajapa, saying they were just the tip of the iceberg.
“We have always said there is a cabal that is in football to profit from the game, disguising themselves as the saviours of our beautiful game, and they have formed a network where they protect themselves, all the time, because they all know they have skeletons in their cupboards,” Japajapa said.
“The events that happened today (yesterday) show us that there is massive decay among our football leaders and they fly business class to Zurich, stay at five-star hotels, pretending that they are working for the good of football yet they are working to enrich themselves.
“We have always said that everything comes to an end, at some time, and what we are seeing happening at FIFA, at a global level, has always been happening here in our ZIFA, where issues about bribery have tainted every election that we
have had for the ZIFA president and we have an organisation that is run like a Mafia entity.
“From now onwards, we believe, it is not going to be business as usual and this could just be what football needed to restore credibility in a game where it was becoming acceptable that you can be corrupt and get away with it.”
UEFA football leaders yesterday called for the postponement of tomorrow’s vote for the FIFA president amid allegations that the game’s leading officials took millions of dollars in bribes to decide which country stages the World Cup and the battle for the FIFA presidency in 2011.
“UEFA shows this FIFA the red card. Today’s events are a disaster for FIFA and tarnish the image of football as whole. UEFA is deeply shocked and saddened by them,” said the organisation.
“These events show that once again corruption is deeply rooted in FIFA’s culture. There is a need for the whole of FIFA to be rebooted and for a real reform to be carried out. “The upcoming FIFA Congress risks turning into a farce and therefore the European associations will have to consider carefully even if they should attend this Congress . . .
“The UEFA member associations are meeting tomorrow (today) ahead of the FIFA Congress. At that point, the European associations will decide on what further steps need to be taken to protect the game of football.
“The members of the European executive committee are convinced that there is a strong need for a change through the leadership of this Fifa and we strongly believe that the Fifa Congress should be postponed.”
Fifa President Sepp Blatter was not named in the corruption probe.
“This is a difficult time for football, the fans and for FIFA as an organisation,” he said in a statement yesterday.
“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.
“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.
“While there will be many who are frustrated with the pace of change, I would like to stress the actions that we have taken and will continue to take. In fact, today’s action by the Swiss Office of the Attorney General was set in motion when we submitted a dossier to the Swiss authorities late last year. “Let me be clear: such misconduct has no place in football and we will ensure that those who engage in it are put out of the game.
“We will continue to work with the relevant authorities and we will work vigorously within FIFA in order to root out any misconduct, to regain your trust and ensure that football worldwide is free from wrongdoing.” FIFA quickly banned the implicated officials yesterday. — Sports Reporter/Reuters/The Guardian