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FIFA Officials Suspected of Taking ‘Millions’ in Bribes Arrested
The Justice Department's investigation into FIFA graft creeps closer to the United States.
The broad investigation into bribery and corruption within FIFA, the world’s governing body for soccer, creeped closer to American soccer with the Thursday arrests of the head of the regional confederation that includes North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Alfredo Hawit of Honduras and Juan Ángel Napout of Paraguay are among the 16 people expected to be charged Thursday. Hawit is the acting president of CONCACAF, the football federation that governs North American soccer, as well as the sport in Central America and the Caribbean. Napout is the head of CONMEBOL, the South American confederation.
Both are members of FIFA’s governing executive committee and vice presidents in the organization. They are suspected of accepting bribes totaling “millions of dollars,” according to the Swiss Federal Office of Justice, and are fighting extradition to the United States.
Swiss authorities conducted pre-dawn raids in Zurich Thursday morning at the luxury hotel Baur au Lac, the same location where FIFA officials were arrested in May. They were targeting officials accused of racketeering, money laundering, and fraud. U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and other law enforcement officials are expected to discuss the arrests later Thursday.
“FIFA became aware of the actions taken today by the U.S. Department of Justice,” the worldwide soccer organization, a multibillion-dollar enterprise long dogged by rumors of corruption and graft, said in a statement. “FIFA will continue to cooperate fully with the U.S. investigation as permitted by Swiss law, as well as with the investigation being led by the Swiss Office of the Attorney General.”
Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s longtime president, is not among those charged, nor is Jérôme Valcke, his deputy. Both are suspended by FIFA.
Thursday’s arrests were a reminder that the U.S.-led investigation into corruption within FIFA is far from over. In May, the Justice Department announced charges against 18 people from 12 different nations. Investigators are looking into allegations of decades of graft that includes bribery in exchange for broadcast and marketing rights and rigged World Cup bids.
Photo credit: Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images