NINE FIFA officials stand accused of breeding decades of “rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted” corruption within the scandal-hit world football organisation, the US justice department said.
The Fifa officials, including vice-president Jeffrey Webb and former vice-president Jack Warner, and five others have been charged with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies in connection with an alleged “24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer”.
The defendants also include US and South American sports marketing executives who the department said “are alleged to have systematically paid and agreed to pay well over 150 million US dollars in bribes and kickbacks to obtain lucrative media and marketing rights to international soccer tournaments”.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch said: “The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States.
“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.
“And it has profoundly harmed a multitude of victims, from the youth leagues and developing countries that should benefit from the revenue generated by the commercial rights these organisations hold, to the fans at home and throughout the world whose support for the game makes those rights valuable.
“Today’s action makes clear that this Department of Justice intends to end any such corrupt practices, to root out misconduct, and to bring wrongdoers to justice - and we look forward to continuing to work with other countries in this effort.”
It comes as Swiss authorities announced a separate investigation in to mismanagement and money laundering surrounding the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
Seven of the officials, including Webb, were arrested in an early morning raid at a Zurich hotel today carried out by Swiss authorities at the request of the US.
Director James Comey of the FBI said: “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.
“Undisclosed and illegal payments, kickbacks, and bribes became a way of doing business at Fifa. I want to commend the investigators and prosecutors around the world who have pursued this case so diligently, for so many years.”
In a Fifa press conference in Zurich, the world governing body’s director of communications Walter de Gregorio confirmed that Friday’s presidency election will go ahead as planned despite today’s revelations.
He added that there will also be no redraw of the Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 World Cup wins, despite the separate Swiss investigation in to possible criminal mismanagement of the allocations.
Asked about the US corruption investigation, he said: “For us it’s a hard time, it’s not nice being here in front of (the media) trying to explain something that is not nice but at the same time for us, for Fifa, this is good, it confirms that we are on the right track.
“It hurts, it’s not easy but it’s the only way to go. We are ready to go the way we started four years ago and nothing will stop us.”
Mr de Gregorio confirmed that Fifa president Sepp Blatter and Fifa secretary-general Jerome Valcke are not involved in the corruption proceedings.
Discussing the upcoming election, he added: “Timing is obviously not the best. Certainly this is a difficult moment for us, Fifa is suffering once again.
“It was never an idea to postpone congress or election. The election will take place as planned.”
The guilty pleas of four individual and two corporate defendants were also revealed by the US today including that of Chuck Blazer, the long-serving former general secretary of CONCACAF Champions League.
Mr de Gregorio added that Fifa initiated the investigation about the World Cup bidding process after raising concerns with the Swiss authorities last year and “welcomes” their investigation.
The Swiss police raided the headquarters of Fifa in Zurich today where it gathered data and documents as part of their investigation in to “irregularities” surrounding the major football tournaments.
The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland said the both raids were carried out simultaneously to “avoid any possible collusion”.
The chairman of the Football Association, the governing body of football in England, questioned whether Fifa’s leadership election should go ahead.
Greg Dyke, who said the FA had nominated rival Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan as the next president, said: “We should stress this morning’s developments are very serious for Fifa and its current leadership.
“As one of the associations who nominated Prince Ali, it will not surprise you to learn that if the election for president goes ahead, the FA will be voting for him.
“However, there must be a question mark over whether the election should take place in these circumstances.
“Clearly things are changing very quickly and our delegation to the Fifa congress in Zurich, which I am leading, will discuss the position and what we should do about it with our colleagues in Uefa when we meet tomorrow morning.”
Despite years of negative headlines, 79-year-old Mr Blatter is the overwhelming favourite to win a fifth term of office in two days’ time.
During Mr Blatter’s 17-year tenure there have been numerous corruption allegations surrounding Fifa officials but he still holds the formal backing from the Asian, African and South American confederations.
Warner insisted he was innocent.
In a statement he said: “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.
“The actions of Fifa no longer concern me. I cannot help but note, however, that these cross-border coordinated actions come at a time when Fifa is assembled for elections to select a president who is universally disliked by the international community.
“At times such as this it is my experience that the large world powers typically take actions to affect world football. World football is an enormous international business.
“That is no longer my concern. My sole focus at this stage of my life is on the people of Trinidad and Tobago.”
Jim Boyce, Britain’s outgoing Fifa vice-president, said: “This is another sad day for Fifa. I hope the investigations that Fifa have themselves initiated will lead to those individuals - if found guilty of dishonesty and corruption - dealt with in the strongest possible manner by the law authorities.”