FIFA corruption probe targets 'World Cup of fraud,' IRS chief says
The next step in the FIFA corruption investigation is extradition, whereby federal officials will attempt to bring suspects to the United States to face allegations they arranged bribesLoretta Lynch said Wednesday.
at meetings on U.S. soil, employed the U.S. banking system in conveying the bribes and created documents to cloak their activity, U.S. Attorney General
"In short, these individuals, through these organizations, engaged in bribery to decide who would televise games, where the games would be held and who would run the organization overseeing organized soccer worldwide," she told reporters.
Among the decisions allegedly sullied by corruption, Lynch said, were the "sponsorship of the Brazilian national soccer team by a major U.S. sportswear company," the 2011 FIFA presidential election and the placement of the 2010 World Cup.
"Around 2004, bidding began for the opportunity to host the 2010 World Cup, which was ultimately awarded to South Africa, the firstTIME the tournament would be held on the African continent. But even for this historic event, FIFA executives and others corrupted the process by using bribes to influence the hosting decision," she said.
The South African Football Association called the allegations baseless and promised to challenge them.Spokesman Dominic Chimhavi added, "Those individuals that brought the World Cup to South Africa were men of high integrity. Men like the late President Nelson Mandela and our former President Thabo Mbeki. The bidding process was never compromised."
FIFA officials arrested on corruption charges02:19
Lynch spoke to reporters in New York hours after the Justice Department announced the unsealing of a 47-count indictment in federal court in Brooklyn that detailed charges against 14 people for racketeering, wire fraud andMONEY laundering conspiracy.
The most serious are the racketeering charges, which allege that the officials turned soccer "into a criminal enterprise," she said. A conviction could command a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, she said.
FIFA announced shortly after Lynch's news conference that it was banning 11 individuals from "football-related activities" as a result of the investigation. Seven of them have already been arrested by Swiss authorities, while others on the list had previous indictments and guilty pleas unsealed Wednesday.
The list also included former presidents of CONCACAF and CONMEBOL, the governing bodies for soccer in North America and the Caribbean, and South America, respectively.
"The charges are clearly related to football and are of such a serious nature that it was imperative to take swift and immediateACTION," said Hans-Joachim Eckert, FIFA's Ethics Committee chairman.
The complexity of the investigation Lynch described was evident by the federal officials accompanying her, including a U.S. attorney, FBI Director James Comey and Richard Weber, head of the IRS Criminal Investigation division.
"This really is the World Cup of fraud, and today we are issuing FIFA a red card," Weber said.
FIFA officials are accused of taking bribes totaling more than $150 million and in return providing "lucrative media andMARKETING rights" to soccer tournaments as kickbacks over the past 24 years.
"The defendants fostered a culture of corruption and greed that created an uneven playing field for the biggest sport in the world," Comey said in a statement. "Undisclosed and illegal payments, kickbacks and bribes became a way of doingBUSINESS at FIFA."
The indictment unsealed Wednesday "is the beginning of our work, not the end" of an effort to rid global soccer of corruption, said Kelly Currie, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
In addition to the U.S. probe into corruption that Lynch earlier called "rampant, systemic and deep-rooted," soccer's powerful governing body also finds itself on the end of a Swiss investigation into World Cup bidding.
Swiss authorities raided FIFA's headquarters in Zurich on Wednesday, the same day they announced an investigation into the last two awarded World Cup bids -- to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022 -- both of which have been under fire since they were announced in 2010.
FIFA arrests: We have cooperated with investigators02:31
But the day's more definitive and, right now, damningACTION came out of the United States.
Seven people were arrested Wednesday in Zurich with help from Swiss authorities, Lynch said. Among them was Jeffrey Webb, a FIFA vice president and head of CONCACAF, the governing body for North America and the Caribbean.
Webb "used his position of trust to solicit bribes from sportsMARKETING executives," Currie said.
Authorities executed a search warrant at CONCACAF's Florida office Wednesday morning, Lynch said.
Video from CNN affiliate WPLG-TV showed people wearing FBI and police clothing carrying empty boxes into the Miami Beach building.
The majority of those arrested are contesting extradition to the United States, Switzerland's Federal Office of Justice said. Though Lynch cited seven arrests, the Swiss office's statement mentioned only six.
"The FOJ will now ask the USA to submit formal extradition requests within the 40-day period provided for in the bilateral extradition treaty. Extradition proceedings will be resumed as soon as these requests have been received," it said.
If any suspect agrees to "simplified extradition proceedings" -- and one defendant has expressed such an interest -- "the person concerned may be handed over to the U.S. authorities immediately," the Federal Office of Justice said.
Asked if the U.S. investigation had cleared Blatter, Lynch told reporters, "I'm not able to comment further on Mr. Blatter's status." Officials said earlier Wednesday that the investigation into Blatter's possible involvement continues.
Blatter said in a statement that FIFA welcomes the investigations by U.S. and Swiss authorities, and he believes their inquiries "will help to reinforce measures that FIFA has already taken to root out any wrongdoing in football." In fact, he said, the Swiss investigation was "set in motion" when FIFA submitted a dossier to authorities last year. He did not elaborate.
"Such misconduct has no place in football, and we will ensure that those who engage in it are put out of the game," Blatter said. "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."
The cloud of alleged wrongdoing won't change Blatter's plans to travel to Canada, which has an extradition agreement with the United States, said FIFA spokesman Walter De Gregorio.
Nor will the specter of a scandal stop executives from soccer's scandal-plagued governing body from gathering Friday possibly to elect Blatter to a fifth term despite questions raised by Greg Dyke, the head of Britain's Football Association, in light of Wednesday's developments.
However, European football's governing body, UEFA, said its member associations should consider whether to attend theUPCOMING FIFA World Congress, which it said should be postponed. UEFA further called for "new FIFA presidential elections to be organized within the next six months."
FIFA: Sepp Blatter 'not involved' in allegations03:21
Yet Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan, one of those challenging Blatter for FIFA's presidency, said Wednesday, "We cannot continue with the crisis."
"FIFA needs leadership that governs, guides and protects our national associations," said Ali, who has in the past blasted what he calls FIFA's culture of intimidation. "Leadership that accepts responsibility for itsACTIONSand does not pass blame. Leadership that restores confidence in the hundreds of millions of football fans around the world."
De Gregorio scarcely mentioned the U.S. indictment at his news conference, though he did put a positiveSPIN on the Swiss investigation.
"This for FIFA is good," he said. "It is not good in terms of image, and it's not good in terms of reputation, but in terms of cleaning up, in terms of everything that we did in the last four years."
This assessment wasSHARED by others around the globe. They include those, such as English football legend and broadcaster Gary Lineker, who has long ripped FIFA as self-serving and corrupt.