More FIFA officials arrested, including CONCACAF president
Two FIFA officials were arrested at the request of U.S. authorities on Thursday in a widening bribery case that has rocked soccer's scandal-hit governing body.
Swiss police made pre-dawn raids at the luxury Baur au Lac hotel in downtown Zurich, the same place where arrests on May 27 sparked the FIFA corruption crisis. The New York Times reported more than a dozen people were expected to be charged.
Switzerland's justice ministry has identified FIFA vice presidents Juan Angel Napout and Alfredo Hawit as the two officials arrested today on suspicion of bribery.
The justice ministry says both men have opposed their extradition to the United States at Zurich police hearings on Thursday.
Switzerland's justice ministry said in a statement the two men are "suspected of accepting bribes of millions of dollars." Hawit is the president of CONCACAF, and Juan Angel Napout is the president of CONMEBOL.
The bribes are linked to marketing rights for the Copa America and World Cup qualifying matches, the statement said.
"FIFA is aware of the actions taken today by the U.S. Department of Justice," the governing body said in a statement. "FIFA will continue to cooperate fully with the U.S. investigation as permitted by Swiss law, as well as with the investigation being led by the Swiss Office of the Attorney General. FIFA will have no further comment on today's developments."
Once again, FIFA was rocked ahead of a key meeting of its international leaders, who were set to approve adding eight teams to make a 40-nation World Cup lineup.
The arrests were made ahead of a FIFA executive committee meeting that deferred the decision on expansion starting with the 2026 World Cup. The U.S. is a likely favorite when bidding to host that tournament starts next year.
The meeting did support some reforms in a process that responds to the dual American and Swiss federal investigations of corruption implicating FIFA leaders and which forced President Sepp Blatter to announce his resignation plans in June.
''Events underscore the necessity to establish a complete program of reforms for FIFA today,'' said interim FIFA President Issa Hayatou, who stepped in when Blatter was suspended from duty in October in a separate case of financial wrongdoing.
Modernizing changes include taking many decision-making powers from the executive panel, to be renamed the FIFA Council with more men and women members. Future presidents and council members will be limited to 12 years in office and face stricter integrity checks. FIFA's 209 member federations must vote on the changes on Feb. 26.
Fernando Sarney, a FIFA executive committee member from Brazil, said the early morning arrests tainted the meeting.
''It was like someone had died, that was the atmosphere inside,'' Sarney told reporters. ''Everybody was surprised, the feeling was like it's happening again, that it's something we think is personal.''
Past Brazilian delegates at FIFA were likely targets of the DOJ on Thursday after being linked to bribery in the May indictment.
On May 27, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted two FIFA vice presidents among 14 soccer and marketing officials linked to bribes worth tens of millions of dollars for the Copa America and other regional tournaments in South and Central America. Four other men made guilty pleas.
The two men arrested Thursday face police hearings later in the day to consider the requests from American law enforcement agencies ahead of extradition proceedings.
"According to the arrest requests, some of the offences were agreed and prepared in the USA. Payments were also processed via U.S. banks," the Swiss justice ministry said.
CONCACAF made the following statement:
"The Confederation of North, Central America and the Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) was made aware of the arrest of several international football officials that took place this morning in Zurich and that included the confederation’s acting and statutorily appointed President, Mr. Alfredo Hawit.
"CONCACAF continues to cooperate with all government authorities in their investigations to the fullest extent.
"CONCACAF remains committed to implementing fully the Reform Framework that it announced in July of this year. The majority of these reforms have already been implemented in CONCACAF's administrative and compliance structures.
"Today's developments only strengthen the Confederation's resolve in continuing to enact significant structural and governance changes to the organization, including substantial amendments to its statutes and fundamentally changing how it conducts business.
"At present, CONCACAF is not in a position to comment further on the specific allegations, which are the subject of the indictments."
A statement from US Soccer on individual members of CONCACAF, CONMEBOL read: "Today's events involving individual members of CONCACAF and CONMEBOL in no way pierce the integrity of the rigorous safeguards the United States Soccer Federation required before agreeing to host Copa America Centenario that ensure the tournament is organized and conducted in a way that is open, transparent and above reproach.
"The new Executive Committee that was created to govern the tournament does not include these individuals and they were never in a position to make decisions that would adversely impact those high standards.
"As the LOC for the tournament, the United States Soccer Federation remains fully focused on the organization and operation of Copa America Centenario, and conducting the tournament in the most professional and highly principled manner possible."
The arrests Thursday follow increased activity in the FIFA bribery case in recent weeks, with South American soccer leaders targeted.
FIFA executive committee member Luis Bedoya of Colombia resigned his position last month. Colombian prosecutors said they are investigating financial transactions by Bedoya and requested information from U.S. authorities.
Chilean soccer federation president Sergio Jadue resigned also last month and traveled to Miami, amid media reports he was cooperating with U.S. investigators.
The indictment published in May said most presidents of the 10 South American federations would receive $1.5 million in bribes from marketing company Datisa from each of four editions of the Copa America being played from 2015 through 2023.
The last six months have been the most turbulent period of Blatter's 17-year reign as FIFA president and have impacted on the governing body's billion-dollar annual business.
Asked about reports of a $100 million loss in 2015, acting secretary general Markus Kattner declined to say how much of FIFA's $1.5 billion reserves have been spent on legal bills and making up a shortfall from a failure to sign new World Cup sponsors.
''It is clear it's not an easy year,'' Kattner said at a news conference. ''We had unforeseen additional costs, and also on the revenue side some challenges to cope with.''
Blatter was re-elected as FIFA president on May 29, two days after a raid in Zurich by Swiss police resulted in seven officials being arrested and criminal proceedings being opened regarding ''systematic and deep-rooted'' corruption in soccer.
As a result of the Swiss investigation, Blatter and UEFA President Michel Platini are currently serving 90-day suspensions amid FIFA ethics investigations involving $2 million of FIFA money Blatter approved for Platini in 2011 as backdated salary.
Both face lifetime bans at ethics hearings expected this month.