Swiss authorities again acted on a request from the US justice department, a repeat of the sweeping arrests in May that set off the scandal which has shaken world football’s governing body to its core.
A source inside FIFA, who requested anonymity, told AFP that the two officials targeted were South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) president Juan Angel Napout, and Alfredo Hawit, head of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) and President of the National Autonomous Federation of Football of Honduras (FENAFUTH).
Both are suspected of taking millions of dollars in bribes in return for selling marketing rights for major regional tournaments in Latin America and World Cup qualifying matches, the Swiss Justice ministry said in a statement.
The arrests were carried out at the five-star Baur au Lac hotel, a favourite of FIFA’s officials, and the same spot where seven top football executives were arrested in May on suspicion of involvement in tens of millions of dollars of corruption dating back decades.
The New York Times, which broke the news of the fresh arrests, said Swiss authorities descended on the hotel at around 6:00 am (0500 GMT).
Swiss officials have not confirmed the identities of the newest suspects, but said they would do so by day’s end.
Swiss officials have just released the list of others involved. They include former President of Honduras Rafael Callejas
The arrests were the latest in a series of actions targeting FIFA’s senior leadership.
The body’s long-time president Sepp Blatter, the subject of criminal investigation in Switzerland, has been suspended for 90-days and is facing tougher punishment by FIFA’s internal ethics watchdog.
The man who had been tipped to succeed him at a special election in February, European football chief Michel Platini, has also been suspended and could be hit with a lifetime ban from football by the end of the month.
As the latest suspects were taken into custody, FIFA’s remaining leadership was set for a second day of crucial meetings on approving a reform package aimed at repairing world football’s tainted global image.
FIFA said it would press ahead with that meeting.
In a statement, FIFA also said it was “aware of the actions taken today by the US Department of Justice.” It vowed to “continue to cooperate 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.” The Times cited several law enforcement officials speaking on condition of anonymity as saying that the US Justice Department would unseal indictments in the case later on Thursday.
The Swiss Federal Office of Justice (FOJ), as the ministry is known, said it had ordered Zurich police to detain the two individuals “based on arrest requests submitted by the United States Department of Justice on 29 November 2015.” The US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, suspects the two “of accepting bribes of millions of dollars,” the FOJ statement said.
“Some of the offences were agreed and prepared in the USA. Payments were also processed via US banks,” the FOJ further said.
If confirmed that they are the ones being held, Napout of Paraguay and Hawit, a native of Honduras, will both be facing extradition to the US, which could be approved “immediately” if neither suspect challenges the transfer, the FOJ said.
The arrests, and the meeting on reforms, come on the fifth anniversary of the 2010 vote that controversially awarded the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar.
That decision set off a cascade of allegations of corruption and skullduggery. Before his suspension, Blatter appointed prominent sporting official Francois Carrard to come up with a set of changes aimed at overhauling FIFA’s management structure.
In October, Carrard’s reform panel proposed limiting president terms at 12 years and barring those over 74 from serving on the executive. It also suggested the pay package of top officials be published annually and independently audited.
FIFA’s executive committee was on Thursday due to decide whether to send the reform package for adoption at the congress in February.
Meanwhile, a FIFA source who requested anonymity said the executive committee had been considering expanding the World Cup from 32 teams to 40 in 2026, seen as part of an effort to broaden inclusion.
But executive committee member Wolfgan Niersbach said the body had failed to agree on the matter, putting the decision off until a later date.
TIMELINE OF THE CORRUPTION SCANDAL ENGULFING FIFA
* December 2: FIFA awards 2018 World Cup to Russia and 2022 tournament to Qatar. Six FIFA executive committee members were suspended before the ballot after Britain’s Sunday Times reported they offered to sell their votes for cash
* June 1: Sepp Blatter returns for fourth term as FIFA president and vows a reform agenda. FIFA had launched an inquiry into alleged illegal payments a month before his election
* June 23: FIFA bans Mohamed bin Hammam, a former FIFA president from Qatar, for life for misconduct
* April 30: FIFA’s ethics committee says former president Joao Havelange and former executive committee members Ricardo Teixeira and Nicolas Leoz accepted illegal payments from collapsed sports marketing company ISL
* May 6: FIFA’s ethics committee suspends Chuck Blazer, former general secretary of CONCACAF, representing north and central America and the Caribbean. Blazer had by then been working undercover for US anti-corruption investigators for two years
* December 17: Former US attorney Michael Garcia resigns as head of FIFA’s investigatory body after the release of what he called an “incomplete and erroneous” summary of his report into corruption
* May 27: Police raid a Zurich hotel on the eve of the FIFA congress and arrest seven officials, including two FIFA vice-presidents. They are among 14 wanted by US prosecutors over $US150 million ($A205 million) bribery allegations, including claims of buying and selling votes for South Africa to get the 2010 World Cup
* May 29: 79-year-old Blatter is re-elected for a fifth term as FIFA president, beating Prince Ali bin Al Hussein by 133 votes to 77 in the second round of voting
* June 2: With the corruption storm still raging, Blatter says he will organise a new election to choose a new president. “I don’t feel I have a mandate from the entire world of football,” he says.
* Sept 17: FIFA suspends secretary general Jerome Valcke, Blatter’s right-hand man, over claims about selling World Cup tickets at inflated prices
* Sept 25: Switzerland opens criminal proceedings against Blatter on suspicion he misappropriated funds and violated his duties to FIFA by making a “disloyal payment” of $US2 million ($A2.74 million) to UEFA head Michel Platini. Platini, who wants to succeed Blatter at FIFA, says the money was legitimate payment and he had done nothing wrong
* Oct 2: Major FIFA sponsors Coca-Cola, Visa and McDonald’s call for Blatter to step down immediately. He vows to stay on until the election to choose his successor in February 2016
* Oct 8: FIFA’s ethics watchdog suspends Blatter and Platini for 90 days over the Swiss case and bans South Korean tycoon Chung Mong-Joon, another FIFA presidency candidate, for six years. Valcke is hit with a 90-day ban
* Nov 24: Ethics panel wants Platini to be banned for life, Platini’s lawyer from criminal lawyers Melbourne firm says
* Dec 3: As FIFA’s executive committee meets to discuss reforms – minus the suspended Blatter and Platini – two “high-ranking” FIFA officials are detained at a luxury Zurich hotel on suspicion of taking kickbacks for selling football marketing rights in Latin America, the Swiss justice ministry says
SOURCE: Fox Sports