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Corruption probe expanded as senior FIFA officials arrested

By Agence France-Presse in Washington | China Daily | Updated: 2015-12-05 08:06

Raids in Zurich trigger avalanche of new charges

Sixteen top international soccer officials were arrested and charged in a dramatic widening of the FIFA corruption investigation on Thursday, as US prosecutors vowed to leave no stone unturned in rooting out graft.

Several senior FIFA officials from the past or present were named in a 92-count US Justice Department indictment which came after a series of dawn raids at a lux-ury hotel in Zurich hosting FIFA officials.

Among those indicted were Juan Angel Napout, president of the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL), and Alfredo Hawit, head of the North, Central American and Caribbean ruling body (CONCACAF).

Other notables indicted include Ricardo Teixeira, the once-powerful former head of the Brazilian Football Confederation and a former FIFA vice-president.

The indicted also included Ariel Alvarado, a Panamanian official who currently sits on FIFA's disciplinary committee.

"The message from this announcement should be clear to every culpable individual who remains in the shadows, hoping to evade our investigation: You will not wait us out. You will not escape our focus," US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said, calling the allegations "outrageous" and "unconscionable."

Lynch revealed that eight more people indicted since authorities launched an earlier wave of FIFA raids and arrests in Switzerland in May have now pleaded guilty.

"I can report eight additional defendants have agreed to plead guilty for their involvement in the corruption scheme," she said.

Among those who have pleaded guilty are Jeffrey Webb, a former head of CONCACAF.

Webb, who was indicted when the corruption scandal erupted earlier this year, has pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, three counts of wire fraud and three counts of money laundering conspiracy. As part of his plea deal, Webb has forfeited more than $6.7 million in assets.

Webb and former CONCACAF chief Jack Warner, who was indicted earlier, were also accused of siphoning off cash intended for disaster relief, according to the new indictment.

"Certain of the defendants and their co-conspirators, including the defendants Jack Warner and Jeffrey Webb, took advantage of these opportunities and embezzled or otherwise personally appropriated funds provided by FIFA, including funds intended for natural disaster relief," the indictment read.

Napout and Hawit are both in Switzerland where they are fighting extradition to the US, officials said.

Both men are suspected of taking millions of dollars in bribes in return for selling marketing rights for regional tournaments and World Cup qualifying matches, according to the indictment.

The investigation also covered the payment and receipt of bribes in connection with the sponsorship of the Brazilian soccer federation by a major US sportswear company, and the selection of the host country for the 2010 World Cup and the 2011 FIFA presidential election.

Lynch would not confirm that the US sportswear company was Nike.

Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey meanwhile said those indicted had run corrupt schemes spanning decades.

"For decades, these defendants used their power as the leaders of soccer federations around the world to create a web of corruption and greed that compromises the integrity of the beautiful game," Comey said. "We will leave no stone unturned in pursuing our investigation."

Lynch meanwhile dismissed claims by FIFA's suspended president Sepp Blatter that the US investigation was triggered by sour grapes over the country's failed bid for the 2022 World Cup, controversially awarded to Qatar in a 2010 vote.

"I think (Blatter) is well aware of the nature of our charges," Lynch said.

"This covers years of conduct by dozens and dozens of people from the past into the future.

"I called it outrageous and unconscionable. That still stands."

Corruption probe expanded as senior FIFA officials arrested

Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) officials implicated in the FIFA bribery and corruption scandal include, from left, top row: Alfredo Hawit, current FIFA vice-president; Ariel Alvarado, current member of the FIFA disciplinary committee; Rafael Callejas, current member of the FIFA television and marketing committee; Brayan Jiménez, current Guatemalan soccer federation president; Rafael Salguero, former FIFA executive committee member. No photos are available of Héctor Trujillo, current Guatemalan soccer federation general secretary, or Reynaldo Vasquez, former Salvadoran soccer federation president. AFP

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