US slaps corruption charges on 16 officials

ZURICH • A day that began with a fresh round of dawn raids on the Baur Au Lac hotel in Zurich ended with 16 football officials being indicted on corruption charges in the United States, including five current or former members of Fifa's executive committee.

They included former Brazilian federation chief Ricardo Teixeira and Marco Polo del Nero, his successor who had stepped down from the Fifa executive committee just last week.

They were among 16 individuals accused of fraud and other offences by the US Department of Justice on Thursday as it set out a series of kickback schemes in a new 240-page indictment that superseded the previous one in May.

It takes to 27 the number of defendants charged by the US with a further 24 unnamed "co-conspirators" - including former Fifa executive committee members.

"The betrayal of trust set forth here is outrageous," US attorney-general Loretta Lynch said.

On a day when Fifa's executive committee had hoped to trumpet new reforms, Swiss police led away the president of the South American football confederation (Conmebol), the Paraguayan Juan Angel Napout, and Alfredo Hawit, the head of the North and Central American and Caribbean governing body (Concacaf).

The Swiss Federal Office of Justice said: "They are being held in custody pending their extradition. According to the US arrest requests, they are suspected of accepting bribes of millions of dollars."

Eleven current and former members of Fifa's executive committee have now been charged in the investigation, which alleges US$200 million (S$282.1 million) in bribes.

"The message from this announcement should be clear to every culpable individual who remains in the shadows: You will not wait us out. You will not escape our focus," said Lynch.

Fourteen men had been earlier charged in May, when four additional guilty pleas were unsealed.

Days later, Sepp Blatter won a fifth term as president but later agreed to step down as the crisis spiralled further.

He was then provisionally suspended alongside Uefa president Michel Platini, over an alleged US$2 million "disloyal payment" to the Frenchman.

Both men face possible life bans when their case is heard by the Fifa ethics committee this month and they are found guilty of the charges.

The acting Fifa president, Issa Hayatou, refused to comment on the detail of the latest arrests to rock Fifa's once impregnable Swiss fortress. But he maintained neither he nor the organisation was corrupt.

"Fifa is not corrupt. We have individuals that have shown negative behaviour. Do not generalise the situation," said Hayatou.

"There are lots of people in Fifa for more than 20 or 30 years that have not been accused of anything."

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2015, with the headline 'US slaps corruption charges on 16 officials'. Print Edition | Subscribe