Swiss authorities executed an early morning operation on Wednesday to arrest several top soccer officials and extradite them to the United States on corruption charges, the New York Times reports.
The arrests were made at the five-star Baur au Lac hotel, as FIFA officials gathered in Zurich for the soccer governing body’s annual meeting. Current FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who is widely expected to be re-elected for a fifth term this Friday, was not among the arrested officials.
The indictments, which have not yet been unsealed by the Department of Justice, will reportedly allege widespread corruption spanning the past two decades, citing shady dealings in broadcast and marketing deals, as well as questionable bids for hosting the World Cup, the paper reported, citing officials with knowledge of the case.
Charges are said to include racketeering, money laundering, and wire fraud.
Update: We called the Warner sons and Aaron Davidson, who were indicted. They didn’t want to talk to us. Blatter and Chuck Blazer released statements.
Close to home: How the FIFA indictments connect to the U.S. soccer world
Allegations of corruption have been near ubiquitous for FIFA, a multibillion dollar operation, the last few years. The 2018 and 2022 bids for the World Cup, which went to Russia and Qatar, respectively, faced sharp allegations of corruption during the bidding process. Last year, Michael Garcia, FIFA’s independent ethics investigator, concluded an extensive 18-month investigation into alleged collusion connected with the bids for the coveted spots. A summary of the report, written by Hans-Joachim Eckert, a FIFA ethics committee colleague, cleared both nations — and FIFA itself — of any material wrongdoing. Any breach of rules connected to the bids were “very limited in scope,” the summary report said, closing the case immediately.
Garcia, a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, resigned because he said the summary report was erroneous and didn’t adequately articulate his findings.
Much of the inquiry is focused on CONCACAF, the regional federation that includes North America, Central America and the Caribbean. Current CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb and his predecessor, Jack Warner, are among the officials named by law enforcement officials.
Warner, who is no longer with FIFA, but who has reportedly been indicted in the sweep, resigned from FIFA in 2011 amid longstanding allegations of corruption. When he resigned, all ethics committee investigations against him were dropped, according to FIFA rules at the time. When announcing his departure, FIFA put out a statement declaring that his “presumption of innocence is maintained.”
Wednesday’s arrests, many of which involve members of the body’s executive committee, mark a monumental blow to the organization and its tenure under four-term president Blatter.
On Wednesday morning, a press conference about the arrests and investigation will be held with U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FBI Director James Comey.