‘FIFA Is Imploding': Surprise Arrests Hit FIFA Top Officials Ahead of Friday Election

Photo by Alobos Life, November 9, 2010, CC 2.0.

Photo by Alobos Life, November 9, 2010, CC 2.0.

Swiss police arrested nine senior FIFA officials in Zurich on Wednesday morning, May 27, on suspicion of bribery and money laundering, among other charges, following indictments by the US Department of Justice. The arrests were made at the hotel where officials were staying as they await the FIFA Congress, ahead of this Friday's election for the FIFA presidency.

The US Justice Department is targeting more than a dozen FIFA officials, including these six top figures:

Nine of the defendants were FIFA officials by operation of the FIFA statutes, as well as officials of one or more other bodies:

  • Jeffrey Webb: Current FIFA vice president and executive committee member, CONCACAF president, Caribbean Football Union (CFU) executive committee member and Cayman Islands Football Association (CIFA) president.
  • Eduardo Li: Current FIFA executive committee member-elect, CONCACAF executive committee member and Costa Rican soccer federation (FEDEFUT) president.
  • Julio Rocha: Current FIFA development officer.  Former Central American Football Union (UNCAF) president and Nicaraguan soccer federation (FENIFUT) president.
  • Costas Takkas: Current attaché to the CONCACAF president.  Former CIFA general secretary.
  • Jack Warner: Former FIFA vice president and executive committee member, CONCACAF president, CFU president and Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) special adviser.
  • Eugenio Figueredo: Current FIFA vice president and executive committee member.  Former CONMEBOL president and Uruguayan soccer federation (AUF) president.

The Swiss authorities also released a statement of the documents seized (click here) during the arrests and opening of criminal proceedings against the FIFA officials arrested. The statement clarifies the reasons for the arrests as follows;

The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) is conducting a Swiss criminal investigation regarding the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. For inquiries regarding this Swiss criminal investigation, please contact the OAG. In separate proceedings, and independently of the Swiss criminal investigation of the OAG, the US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York is conducting a criminal investigation into the allocation of media, marketing and sponsoring rights for football tournaments carried out in the United States and Latin America.

The world of sport—particularly among fans of football (or soccer, as it's known North America)—was abuzz about the surprise arrests. On Twitter, leading football figures and sports officials weighed in on the news using the hashtag #FIFAArrests.

Others took a rather cynical look at the arrests:

These arrests will indeed affect the upcoming 65th FIFA Congress, as well as have implications on the future of FIFA, whatever the outcome of the organization's Friday election for president.

Reactions from across the world have been mixed with national football associations and their officials coming under increased scrutiny. In Africa, the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) President Kalusha Bwalya is said to be holed up in South Africa. A former national footballer and icon of the game in Africa, his tenure as head of FAZ has made him less popular in his home country. Peter Aduma reports this about his alleged prolonged stay in South Africa:

With the FBI and Swiss authorities bringing down the FIFA house on long standing corruption allegations that have seen seven officials arrested, the scandal is hitting closer to home with FAZ president Kalusha Bwalya reportedly stalling for time in Johannesburg.

Bwalya, who has been previously named as one of the officials that received bribes from former FIFA presidential candidate Mohammed Bin Hammam, allegedly fears that he may join the long list of those arrested with the net cast as wide as South Africa where three officials have also joined the list for their alleged corrupt role in the 2010 World Cup bid.

The article continues indicating that though there has been a local process opened on bribery allegations against Bwalya without much headway, the US judicial process seems to have sent jitters among CAF officials (Bwalya included) some of who have opted to skip the FIFA Congress.

In South Africa, news of the arrests in the Swiss capital saw allegations against South Africa Football Association (SAFA) resurface. This is in relation to the 2010 World Cup it hosted five years ago. No SAFA official was named though as Eyewitness News reported here:

A top South African bid official is being investigated for allegedly offering a bribe of $10 million to a top Fifa official, acting US Attorney General Kelly Currie on Wednesday confirmed. No one has been named yet. Fifa is investigating whether corrupt officials at the world soccer’s governing body took bribes during the process that awarded the 2010 World Cup to South Africa, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch alleged on Wednesday.

In the Middle East, the FIFA arrests have affected the Israeli and Palestine Football Associations, which had sought mediation to resolve the unending disputes on arrests and detainment of Palestinian footballers. In a post titled “Will the FIFA Arrests scuttle the Vote to Suspend Israeli Soccer?” on website Edge of Sports, Dave Zirin notes that the Palestinian Football Association President Jibril Rajoub insisted they will proceed with their bid to have Israeli Football Association suspended (becoming only the second ever FIFA member suspended; South Africa was the first during the apartheid regime).

Zirin continues on how it might affect Israel in its bid to avoid suspension:

The idea that a United States Justice Department that can’t even get its Attorney General approved for six months, could pull off a multi-year, multi-million dollar transatlantic sting operation with the perfect timing to stymy a vote whose existence was in doubt even days ago is to put it mildly, unrealistic. But even more pertinently, the US Justice Department and Swiss authorities just gutted the North American delegation with these arrests, the group most likely to support and lobby for Israel at the FIFA Congress.

Interestingly, sports network ESPN happened to carry a documentary on four-time FIFA President Sepp Blatter's reign titled “Blatteropoly“. The story was carried exactly one week before the FIFA arrests.

Finally, the FourFourTwo blog takes a rather cynical view of the arrests, noting that Blatter was not among those arrested:

FIFA chief Sepp Blatter was absolutely not arrested and is not under any suspicion whatsoever,…”We have uncovered a network of kickbacks and fraud that goes right to the top of FIFA,” said a statement from Swiss prosecutors. “Except for Sepp Blatter, who is not even the tiniest bit involved in any way.”

The statement added that investigations were underway into money laundering in connection with the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, that Blatter was the furthest thing from their minds and that they had not even thought about him once until just this very moment.

Stay tuned to Global Voices for more reporting on FIFA arrests and related stories as they develop.

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