Law enforcement officials on Thursday arrested two more FIFA officials suspected of taking millions of dollars in bribes, Swiss authorities said, as part of an ongoing investigation of graft at football’s world governing body.
The two unnamed officials were taken into custody on arrest requests submitted by the U.S. Department of Justice, Switzerland’s Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) said.
“They are being held in custody pending their extradition,” an FOJ statement said. “According to the U.S. arrest requests, they are suspected of accepting bribes of millions of dollars.”
The FOJ said it would issue another statement with the names of those arrested later on Thursday. FIFA’s ethics committee has routinely suspended officials swept up in the probe.
“The high-ranking FIFA officials are alleged to have taken the money in return for selling marketing rights in connection with football tournaments in Latin America, as well as World Cup qualifying matches,” the FOJ said.
“According to the arrest requests, some of the offences were agreed and prepared in the USA. Payments were also processed via U.S. banks.”
Authorities have said for months they expected to level a second wave of corruption charges in football following U.S. charges in May against 14 officials and sports marketing executives with paying and taking bribes.
The New York Times said in the latest action authorities were targeting current and former senior football officials on charges that included racketeering, money laundering and fraud. The new charges were expected to hit South and Central American football leaders particularly hard, the paper said.
The Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich, the scene of dawn raids in May on the back of U.S. indictments, closed its gates after a group of four people, believed to be plainclothes police, went in shortly before 6am, a Reuters witness said.
Another group of police then went in through the rear entrance and left half an hour later. Shortly afterwards, two cars with tinted windows were seen leaving the hotel. Reporters could not see who was inside.
FIFA officials routinely use the hotel, and many are in town for a meeting of FIFA’s executive committee.
“FIFA became aware of the actions taken today by the U.S. Department of Justice,” the Zurich-based body said in a statement.
“FIFA will continue to cooperate fully with the U.S. investigation as permitted by Swiss law, as well as with the investigation being led by the Swiss Office of the Attorney General,” it added without elaborating.
U.S. Department of Justice officials were expected to appear at a news conference in Washington on Thursday to discuss the case, people familiar with the plans said.
Swiss and U.S. authorities are conducting parallel investigations of corruption in football, focusing on whether certain business contracts or the World Cup hosting rights for 2018 and 2022 were won with the help of bribery.
The leaderships of several South American national football organisations have been upended. Last week, Marco Polo Del Nero, the head of the Brazilian Football Confederation, resigned his post on FIFA’s executive committee amid criticism of his leadership.
Also last month, the president of the Colombian Football Federation, Luis Bedoya, resigned unexpectedly as a government source said Bedoya had flown to New York. The president of Chile’s ANFP national football association, Sergio Jadue, resigned his post and went to the United States to talk to the FBI, Chilean media reported.
The U.S. and Swiss investigations have breathed new life into efforts to overhaul FIFA. A reform committee is expected to present recommendations on Thursday to FIFA’s executive committee at a meeting in Zurich.
On Tuesday, leading FIFA sponsors Anheuser-Busch, Adidas, The Coca-Cola Company, McDonald’s and Visa published an open letter demanding independent oversight of the reform process.
Since May there has also been a shakeup of FIFA’s leadership. President Sepp Blatter and Secretary General Jerome Valcke were both suspended by an internal ethics watchdog, although neither has been charged with a crime and both say they have done nothing wrong.
Blatter said in June he would resign more than three years early, and FIFA’s congress is scheduled to elect his successor in February.
Wednesday marked five years since the December 2, 2010, vote in which the FIFA executive committee awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cup finals hosting rights to Russia and Qatar.
The choice of Qatar, a small desert state where summer daytime temperatures rarely fall below 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), was especially contentious and went against the advice of FIFA’s own technical committee.