FIFA corruption scandal intensifies as two vice-presidents arrested in Zurich

Members of the media stand outside the Baur au Lac hotel where Swiss police arrested FIFA officials, in Zurich, Switzerland December 3, 2015. © Arnd Wiegmann
Two high-ranking Fifa officials, believed to be vice-presidents Alfredo Hawit of Honduras and Juan Angel Napout of Paraguay, have been arrested in Zurich on alleged corruption charges as part of a larger, US-led investigation into the organization.

Switzerland’s federal office of justice confirmed that two pre-dawn arrests had been made at the Baur au Lac hotel, where officials were staying to attend a two-day executive committee meeting.

The New York Times has named Hawit and Napout as the men in question, with the identities of those arrested set to be officially confirmed later on Thursday.

The American newspaper reported that more than 12 people were expected to be charged as a result of the current investigation, with the apprehended pair accused of accepting bribes of “millions of dollars.”

Hawit was appointed as the interim president of Concacaf, which governs the sport in North and Central America and the Caribbean. His predecessor Jeffrey Webb was arrested in May.

Napout is the current president of the South American confederation Conmebol.

The accusations against the duo include selling marketing rights in connection with football tournaments in Latin America and World Cup qualifying fixtures.

It is believed that some of the offences occurred in America, with banks in the country processing suspect payments. Critics believe the US has historically turned a blind eye to Fifa corruption under its own nose until the 2022 World Cup vote went against it in 2010.

One of the first arrests made in connection with corruption at Fifa was Chuck Blazer in 2013, the former executive vice president of the US Soccer Federation who was also the CONCACAF general secretary and a FIFA executive committee member. Blazer admitted to conspiring with other Fifa executive committee members to accept bribes related to Morocco's failed bid for the 1998 World Cup and South Africa's successful bid for the 2010 World Cup.

Fifa has already made a statement acknowledging the arrests and pledged to work in collaboration with the authorities.

“Fifa became aware of the actions taken today by the US Department of Justice,” the statement reads.

“Fifa will continue to co-operate fully with the US investigation as permitted by Swiss law, as well as with the investigation being led by the Swiss Office of the Attorney General.”

North and Central America, as well as the Caribbean football governing body (CONCACAF) have expressed readiness to cooperate with the investigation, following the arrest of acting CONCACAF president Alfredo Hawit and other officials on Thursday.

“Today’s developments only strengthen the Confederation’s resolve in continuing to enact significant structural and governance changes to the organization, including substantial amendments to its statutes and fundamentally changing how it conducts business,” CONCACAF said in statement.

The organization added that it’s “not in a position to comment further on the specific allegations which are the subject of the indictments.”

US Attorney General Loretta Lynch unveiled a new indictment charging 16 additional defendants in a wide-ranging global corruption scheme involving top FIFA officials, Reuters reported.

According to Lynch, the US is now working to extradite Juan Angel Napout and Alfredo Hawit from Switzerland, where the two were arrested.

The Attorney General also said eight additional defendants have agreed to plead guilty to their involvement in the FIFA corruption schemes.

Lynch has called the FIFA corruption probe “far-reaching” and ongoing, saying that she expects additional charges in the case.

The latest arrests are another blight on the sport’s governing body, with corruption and bribery seemingly cutting to the core of the organization.

Current president Sepp Blatter has been suspended by Fifa’s ethics committee, while a host of senior-ranking officials have been hit with criminal charges.

Fifa is set to have a new president in place by February 2016, but the reputation of the organization and the sport at large has been significantly damaged over the last 12 months.

To compound issues, the governing body has posted its first financial loss since 2001, with a $100 million reverse announced on Wednesday.

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