FIFA in crisis amid corruption arrests
ZURICH - Swiss police detained several FIFA leaders in a dawn raid Wednesday as part of a twin corruption inquiry that rocked world football's governing body two days before its leader Sepp Blatter seeks a new term.
Two FIFA vice-presidents were among seven people arrested at a luxury Zurich hotel. All now face deportation to the United States on charges of accepting more than $150 million in bribes.
US authorities said nine football officials are among 14 people facing up to 20 years in jail if found guilty in the long-running corruption case.
Separately, Swiss police seized files and emails at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich as they opened an investigation into the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar.
The 2010 vote by FIFA that attributed the events has been surrounded by widespread allegations of fraud. FIFA said though that there was no question of changing the venues.
FIFA spokesman Walter de Gregorio said Blatter is not involved in the investigations and that the presidential vote would be held as planned on Friday. A FIFA congress starts on Thursday.
"The timing is not great," de Gregorio told reporters. But he added that "FIFA welcomes actions that can help contribute to rooting out any wrongdoing in football."
Blatter has been overwhelming favourite to win a fifth term at the head of the multi-billion dollar body. But the events could swing votes even though the Confederatiion of African Football reaffirmed its support for the Swiss official at a meeting in football.
The English Football Association questioned whether the vote should go ahead.
Blatter's only challenger, Prince Ali bin al Hussein, a FIFA vice president from Jordan, called the arrests "a sad day for football."
Prince Ali and European federation chiefs say a change, of leadership is now urgently needed to save FIFA's tainted image.
"We cannot continue with the crisis in FIFA, a crisis that has been ongoing and is not just relevant to the events of today," the Jordanian prince said.
FIFA spokesman de Grigorio said Blatter, 79, was "relaxed" about the future fallout from the investigation.
"He isn't dancing in his office," de Gregorio said. "He is very, very calm, he sees what happens. He is fully cooperative with everybody."
Swiss police gave a surprise 6:00am wake up call to FIFA vice-president Jeffrey Webb, from the Cayman Islands, and six other officials at the luxury Baur au Lac hotel. A US Department of Justice statement said seven people were detained.
US Attorney general Loretta Lynch said: "The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States."
Webb is head of the CONCACAF North and Central American confederation and an ally of Blatter. US police also raided the CONCACAF headquarters in Miami.
Eugenio Figueredo, a FIFA vice president and head of the South American governing body Conmebol, was also detained.
The others included Eduardo Li, the ethnic Chinese head of Costa Rican football who is due to join the FIFA executive on Friday.
Police in plain clothes took the room keys from the reception and went to the rooms of the seven, the New York Times said.
The Swiss justice ministry said those detained were suspected of accepting "bribes and kick-backs between the early 1990s and the present day."
A ministry statement said representatives of sports media and sports marketing companies allegedly paid bribes "in exchange for the media rights and the marketing rights for competitions in the United States and South America."
The seven could agree to be extradited immediately or challenge the move in court. The US Justice Department said the detained officials.
Following the police raid on FIFA's headquarters, they are to question 10 members of the executive committee who took part in the 2010 vote which awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
The 10 are not resident in Switzerland and are in Zurich for the FIFA congress, officials said.
Qatar has strongly denied any wrongdoing linked to its bid. A former FIFA vice president from the Gulf state, Mohammed bin Hammam, was banned for life from FIFA because of corruption.
A former US attorney, Michael Garcia, investigated the World Cup bids. He left FIFA because it refused to fully publish his report.
In May, Blatter denied he was a target of an FBI corruption investigation and that he had no fear of going to the United States.