FIFA corruption scandal: Swiss authorities make more arrests in ongoing investigation

FIFA said it was aware of the arrests but did not give details.

Reuters| Updated: Dec 03, 2015, 21:19 PM IST
FIFA corruption scandal: Swiss authorities make more arrests in ongoing investigation

Zurich: The unprecedented corruption scandal engulfing FIFA widened Thursday with the arrests of two more top officials in another dramatic dawn raid at a luxury hotel, as football`s world body announced reforms aimed at repairing its tarnished reputation. 

Swiss authorities in Zurich again acted on a request from the US justice department, a repeat of the sweeping arrests in May that sparked the scandal which has shaken world football`s governing body to its core. 

The Swiss justice ministry (FOJ) said the targeted officials were South American Football Confederation president Juan Angel Napout, and Alfredo Hawit, head of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean.

Hawit, a Honduran national, and Napout of Paraguay are both opposing extradition to the United States, the FOJ said. 

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

Separately, FIFA`s remaining leadership approved a series of measures aimed at improving transparency and curbing the authority of the body`s much-maligned executive committee, which has emerged as an epicentre of graft.

The measures include a 12-year term limit for FIFA`s president and other senior leaders, public disclosure of compensation for top officials and a pledge to include more women in senior positions. 

They must be approved at a meeting of FIFA`s 209-member associations in February, when a replacement will also be chosen for the organisation`s suspended president Sepp Blatter, who is the subject of a Swiss criminal investigation.

The head of the reform effort, Francois Carrard, told journalists that the measures offered FIFA an opportunity "to renew itself."

Acting president Issa Hayatou, also implicated in previous corruption allegations, said Thursday`s arrests "underscore the need to establish a complete programme of reforms."

Despite the pledges for change, outsiders, including major corporate sponsors, may remain sceptical of whether FIFA is capable of fixing itself. 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 football executives were arrested in May on charges of corruption dating back decades. 

The arrests were the latest in a series of actions targeting FIFA`s senior leadership. 

Blatter has been suspended for 90-days and is facing tougher punishment by FIFA`s ethics watchdog.

The man who had been tipped to succeed him, European football chief Michel Platini, has also been suspended over taking a murky $2 million payment and could be hit with a lifetime ban from football by the end of the month. 

FIFA avoided detailed comment on the fresh arrests, but assured full cooperation with the ongoing US and Swiss investigations. 

US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who has spearheaded the investigations that have sparked FIFA`s unravelling, will unseal details of the latest charges at 1830 GMT, her office said. Aside from term limits, a full restructuring of the executive committee was approved. 

The committee will transition to a council that in theory will operate like a corporate board of directors, removed from the organisation`s day-to-day management, in what is presumably an attempt to curb the financial mis-dealings that have allegedly become commonplace among some top leaders. 

Both Hawit and Napout sit on the executive committee, although their arrests may trigger swift suspensions by the ethics committee. 

The Swiss justice ministry said the two had been arrested following requests from the United States issued on November 29. 

Prosecutors in New York suspect 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.

Switzerland said it would wait for formal transfer requests from the US for both Hawit and Napout before moving forward with the extradition process. 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.

Before his suspension, Blatter tipped Carrard to lead a reform drive, after the Swiss lawyer had been widely praised for cleaning up a rotten International Olympic Committee more than a decade ago. 

Carrard told reporters that the panel had scrapped an idea for a 74-year age limit for senior officials, calling it "arbitrary."

But in a surprise move, his panel proposed expanding the World Cup from 32 teams to 40 in 2026 to broaden inclusion at the world`s premier sports event, although it was not immediately clear how that would aid anti-corruption efforts. 

The plan has not yet been approved by the executive committee and remains under review. 

Carrard and Hayatou faced tough questions as to whether FIFA insiders could be part of the effort to clean up their act. 

"I am aware that the road will be difficult," Carrard said, but stressed that "if you want to achieve reform it must also be carried out from within."