Nine FIFA officials and five sports marketing executives have been charged with racketeering, money laundering, wire fraud and other defenses by the US Department of Justice, and American officials say that the investigation into corruption at FIFA and its member organizations is only beginning.
The official announcement of the charges was made Wednesday morning, hours after a dramatic operation by Swiss authorities to arrest several of the FIFA executives charged in the case while they set to meet at FIFA headquarters in Zurich.
The arrests, which were made rather peacefully and without incident, occurred at the five-star Baur au Lac hotel.
The defendants are expected to be extradited to the United States in short order.
The DoJ was able to bring charges against the foreign nationals involved in the case due to aspects of US law that allow for indictments if there is any connection to the United States at all, such as meetings taking place on American soil or if money involved in a scheme passed through American financial institutions.
Switzerland has an extradition treaty with the United States that ensures they will turn over suspects for most crimes, with the exception of tax-related charges.
Major FIFA Officials Among Those Charged
The officials charged in the case read like a who’s who of FIFA officials, with a particular focus on members of CONCACAF, the confederation that oversees soccer in North and Central American nations.
The biggest current name is likely Jeffrey Webb, the president of CONCACAF and the vice president of FIFA.
Former FIFA vice president Jack Warner was also charged, as was outgoing FIFA vice president Eugenio Figueredo, the former president of the South American soccer federation (CONMEBOL).
One name that wasn’t among those listed, however, was that of FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
At the current FIFA meetings, Blatter is expected to win his fifth term as FIFA president, a position he has held since 1998.
Victim was Sport of Soccer
At a press conference in Brooklyn on Wednesday, US government officials said that the sport of soccer was the ultimate victim of these crimes, and that they hoped their international partners would continue to help root out corruption in FIFA.
“This is the World Cup of fraud,” said Richard Weber, chief of the IRS Criminal Investigations Division. “Today, we’re issuing FIFA a red card.”
The case covered corruption in a dozen schemes, most of which involved sports marketing in various international soccer tournaments, up to and including the 2016 centennial edition of the Copa America that will take place in the United States.
Officials also pointed to evidence of corruption in the process to select South Africa as the host of the 2010 World Cup, as well as in the 2011 FIFA presidential election.
FIFA: No Change to Upcoming World Cups
Despite the charges, a FIFA spokesman said that there will be no consideration of changing the venues of the 2018 World Cup in Russia or the 2022 World Cup scheduled for Qatar, despite the fact that Swiss authorities say they are opening their own investigation into those votes.
US Attorney General Loretta Lynch also said that the US government would not be pressuring FIFA to change the hosts of those tournaments.
“I think that FIFA has a lot of soul searching to do,” Lynch said.
Still, the latest round of trouble for FIFA has caused bookmakers to reevaluate the chances that Qatar will remain the host of the 2022 World Cup.
Oddsmakers are divided on whether the charges make it likely that FIFA will reconsider their decision.
At betfair, the question of whether Qatar will host the tournament now sees “No” as a slight favorite at 4-5 odds. Meanwhile, Ladbrokes still has Qatar as a 1-6 favorite to host the tournament, though the USA is second choice at 3-1.