On Wednesday, May 5, Swiss police – acting on indictments from the U.S. Department of Justice as well as charges of their own – arrested seven executives of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) at its meeting in Zurich, with 14 individuals facing charges altogether. According to statements by U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, this action is only the beginning – more individuals may face questioning or charges as the investigation unfolds.
An in-depth New York Times article details the allegations, and names the individuals who have been charged. Among them are Jack Warner, former vice president of FIFA and president of CONCACAF.
FIFA has long been tied to corruption. Suspicions often surround the bid processes for World Cup locations, most recently awarded to Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022. But critics have also alleged corruption and bribery around officer elections, regional tournaments, marketing and sponsorship contracts and, well, just about anything attached to the worldwide football governance giant.
At the head of the organization sits Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA since 1998. Blatter is Swiss, and FIFA’s headquarters are in Zurich – which makes it all the more significant that the legal action was initiated on FIFA’s home turf. An article in Slate discusses why Switzerland might be shedding its “safe haven” image with this and other anti-fraud enforcement actions. But back to Blatter – a few key observations:
- Blatter was not arrested nor has he been indicted (though it remains unclear as to whether he might face charges as the investigation unfolds);
- On Friday, he was reelected as president of FIFA, which was expected – but many critics are still incredulous, given the timing;
- In a prepared statement, Blatter claimed that “as unfortunate as these events are, it should be clear that we welcome the actions and the investigations by the US and Swiss authorities and believe that it will help to reinforce measures that FIFA has already taken to root out any wrongdoing in football;”
- Blatter also went so far as to suggest that a dossier presented by FIFA to Swiss authorities kicked off the investigation.
However, on that last point, there was no statement to that effect from Swiss or U.S. authorities, and what they were saying instead is significant. A prepared statement from the U.S. Department of Justice quotes Attorney General Lynch: “The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States … It spans at least two generations of soccer officials who, as alleged, have abused their positions of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.”
Those arrested are expected to be extradited to the U.S., where they will be interrogated and, presumably, the investigation will expand from there. This is most likely just the first chapter in what may be a long, and intriguing, story of justice.