No-nonsense Lynch comes out swinging at Fifa

US Attorney General Loretta Lynch points during a news conference at the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Eastern District of New York in the Brooklyn borough of New York on May 27, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
US Attorney General Loretta Lynch points during a news conference at the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Eastern District of New York in the Brooklyn borough of New York on May 27, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Just weeks after taking office as America's top law enforcer, Loretta Lynch has dealt a stinging blow to world football's governing body FIFA.

In announcing corruption indictments against 14 people including nine football officials, Lynch followed up on a probe she had begun and waged tenaciously as an aggressive, no-nonsense US attorney in New York.

In her confirmation hearings before the Senate in late April, Lynch pledged to go after white collar crime, saying no one was above the law. On Wednesday, she kept her word.

"The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States," Lynch said.

Lynch, 55, is a blend of "steel and velvet," in the words of veteran Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein.

In appointing Lynch back in November, President Barack Obama said she would "bring to bear her experience as a tough, independent, and well-respected prosecutor." She is the first African American woman to hold the attorney general's post, and took over from Eric Holder, the first black to have the job.

As US attorney in New York Lynch came to be known as a relentless federal prosecutor who put mobsters and terror suspects behind bars.

Now she is expected to go heavy on defending civil rights and prosecuting crimes on Wall Street.

It is somewhat of a surprise that she has gone after FIFA right off the bat in her own country, where the sport is far less popular than basketball or American football.

However before coming to Washington, Lynch had served as US attorney for the eastern district of New York and handled many corruption cases, including the FIFA probe.

She did so from Brooklyn, the same New York borough where she revealed Wednesday's 47 count indictment and called for the extradition of suspects detained in Switzerland. FIFA was preparing to hold an election Friday in Zurich in which its leader Sepp Blatter is seeking a new term.

"They corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their interests and to enrich themselves," Lynch said of the suspects.

"They did this over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament," she said.

"Two generations of soccer officials," she said, "used their positions of trust within their respective organisations to solicit bribes from sports marketers in exchange for the commercial rights to their soccer tournaments."

Lynch, who went to Harvard law school, promised to work with other countries in order to "end any such corrupt practices, to root out misconduct, and to bring wrongdoers to justice."

She thanked international colleagues taking part in the probe, particularly the Swiss, and promised a fair trial for the suspects after they are extradited.

She said the suspects had "abused the US financial system and violated US law, and we intend to hold them accountable." Lynch was named US attorney in New York by president Bill Clinton, and has held the job twice.

The North Carolina native began her career in a New York law firm before being appointed US district attorney.

From 2002 to 2007, she worked as a special adviser to the prosecutor of the international court handling the Rwanda genocide.