They were arrested before FIFA’s annual general meeting on Friday in an early-morning raid by Swiss police, acting on a request from the US authorities. The officials are all facing extradition to the U.S. Several callers to FrontPageAfrica Wednesday made inquiries over whether Senator George Manneh Weah, political leader of the opposition Congress for Democratic Change were among those picked up.
FrontPageAfrica was able to confirm that Senator Weah was not among those picked up.
Those arrested include: Jeffrey Webb, President of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) and a major figure in FIFA politics, was among those detained. His predecessor, Jack Warner, was also arrested, according according to the New York Times. The others held by Swiss police are: Eugenio Figueredo, a Uruguayan Association football executive and former footballer; Eduardo Li, President of the Costa Rican football federation; Julio Rocha, a FIFA development officer; Rafael Esquivel, President of the Venezuelan Football Federation; José Maria Marin, ex-President of the Brazilian Football Confederation, and Nicolás Leoz, the former
South American football President. Another suspect was named as Costas Takkas. Representative Edwin Melvin Snowe(Independent, District 5, Montserrado Count) who along with Weah and Liberia Football Association(LFA) chief Musa Bility are attending the 65th FIFA Congress in Zurich said Senator Weah and the delegation are doing well.
Weah, the 1995 world soccer player of the year, acknowledged in June 2014 that he was questioned as many as five times by a team investigating allegations of corruption in bidding to hold the World Cup. Former U.S. federal prosecutor Michael Garcia is leading ruling body FIFA’s probe into the voting on the 2018 and 2022 host countries.
Weah said Garcia’s team asked him about a 2010 e-mail published by The Sunday Times. According to a redacted copy of the message, Weah sent his Bank of America account number in Pembroke Pines, Fla., to the assistant of Bin Hammam, who was then on FIFA’s executive committee.
Weah, who has homes in Florida and his native Liberia, said he first met Bin Hammam in Paris in 1998. Bin Hammam was a “father figure” to him, and any interaction with him had been personal and not related to Qatar’s bid, Weah told the Associated Press. “I have a constitutional right to talk about anything outside football” with him, Weah said. “He has been a special friend.” He declined to discuss why he might have sent Bin Hammam his bank details.
Weah said the FIFA investigators taped an interview with him in New York last year and spoke to him “two, three, four, five” times in total.
FIFA vice-President and African football head Issa Hayatou has also denied allegations that he received free private medical treatment and other favors for backing Qatar to host the 2022 Cup. Both Weah and Hayatou were cited at the Congress along with members of the Liberian delegation attending.
As part of the raid Wednesday, officers raided FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich, seized electronic data and opened criminal proceedings “on suspicion of criminal mismanagement and of money laundering in connection with the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 football World Cups”. Up to 15 officials are understood to be under investigation worldwide, so the arrests on Wednesday morning may be just the start but FIFA President Sepp Blatter has not been arrested.
The charges include money laundering, racketeering and wire fraud. The Swiss Federal Office of Justice said the bribery suspects – representatives of sports media and sports promotion firms – are alleged to have been involved in schemes to make payments to delegates of FIFA and other functionaries of FIFA sub-organizations totaling more than $100m. In return, it is believed that they received media, marketing, and sponsorship rights in connection with football tournaments in Latin America.
The arrests and probe of FIFA officials have heightened speculation that Russia and Qatar could be stripped of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups which could set a precedent as no country has ever been stripped of a World Cup and legal and diplomatic observers say such a move could be mired in legal complexities, with both Qatar and Russia likely to aggressively challenge any decision to strip them of the tournament on which both countries have already spent vast sums.
However, it is equally likely that members of the rival bids – including Australia and the US for the 2022 World Cup, and Portugal and Spain for 2018 – will be looking closely at the details of Wednesday’s extraordinary developments with a view to applying for the bidding process to be reopened.
Both World Cups have been mired in controversy since they were awarded on 2 December 2010. Yet Sepp Blatter has been adamant that nothing would derail either tournament, declaring as recently as last week after meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin that “nothing will get in the way of Russia hosting the best ever World Cup”. As he spoke, the FBI and Swiss police were preparing to make arrests that would throw the future of both World Cups into grave doubt.
Swiss police appear to have timed the arrests to occur before FIFA’s annual general meeting on Friday, when they knew that a significant number of their suspects would be in the same city. Not just the same city, but the same hotel. The raid on the Baur au Lac, a luxury hotel with views overlooking the Alps, has long been favoured by FIFA officials visiting Zurich.
The US attorney general is due to hold a press conference on Wednesday when more details will become clear. However, the FBI has been investigating the process that led to the award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup finals to Russia and Qatar respectively. News of the FBI investigation emerged in March 2013 with further details reported in November last year. It was reported that Chuck Blazer, a former FIFA executive committee member, was cooperating with the inquiry after he was approached over huge unpaid tax bills related to thcommissions he had received during his time as CONCACAF general secretary.
Chuck Blazer is a former FIFA executive committee member. Days before he was due to stand down in May 2013, he was suspended from football for 90 days by FIFA amid allegations that he fraudulently received more than $20m from CONCACAF.
The 70-year-old football chief has also held senior posts in America and is credited with turning the sport into a booming success in the US. And while US soccer’s fortunes flourished, so did Blazer’s. He earned the nickname Mr Ten Percent after reportedly negotiating an extraordinary contract with CONCACAF that entitled him to 10% of just about every penny the body brought in. His colourful jet-set lifestyle matched his exuberance, and when he wasn’t living in his $18,000-a-month Manhattan apartment, he was probably relaxing at his luxury condo in the Bahamas.
Last November it emerged that Blazer was cooperating with a US investigation into FIFA. Investigators were said to have approached Blazer in 2011 after allegedly discovering huge unpaid tax bills related to commissions he had received during his time as CONCACAF general secretary. The New York Daily News, which broke the story in November 2014, reported that Blazer had secretly recorded FIFA executives for US investigators using a keychain fitted with a covert recording device.