Soccer's international governing body FIFA was in crisis on Wednesday following the arrest of senior officials on corruption charges and the launch of criminal proceedings relating to the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar.
Seven men, including Jeffrey Webb who is FIFA vice-president and president of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (Concacaf), were detained in dawn arrests at a hotel in Zurich, Switzerland, accused of receiving bribes worth $100 million. The arrested officials now face extradition to the US.
Swiss authorities also raided FIFA headquarters in Zurich, seized electronic data and documents, and launched criminal proceedings "against persons unknown on suspicion of mismanagement and of money laundering in connection with the criminal mismanagement and of money laundering in connection with the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 football World Cups."
"This really is the World Cup of fraud, and today we are issuing FIFA a red card," Richard Weber, criminal investigation chief of the IRS, said at a press conference in New York.
Hotel staff trying to use sheets to hide officials as they exit. pic.twitter.com/o0VFKuFnQi
— Sam Borden (@SamBorden) May 27, 2015
Swiss law enforcement getting room numbers for FIFA execs they are heading upstairs to arrest pic.twitter.com/F69djqpcu5
— Michael S. Schmidt (@MichaelSSchmidt) May 27, 2015
"The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States," said Loretta Lynch, the US attorney general. "It spans at least two generations of soccer officials who, as alleged, have abused their positions of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks."
A US Justice Department statement said 14 defendants — nine current and former soccer officials and five sports marketing executives — had been charged with "racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering conspiracies" over a 24-year period. A search warrant is also being executed at Concacaf headquarters in Miami, Florida.
The UK's Lord Goldsmith, former FIFA independent governance committee member, told VICE News he was "not surprised" by the arrests: "Obviously it is not possible to discuss individual cases at this stage, but I'm not surprised that law enforcement agencies have become involved.
"As part of FIFA's independent governance committee, I warned of just such an outcome if FIFA failed to implement fully our recommendations and become a more transparent organisation.
"It was a warning I renewed when FIFA failed to publish Michael Garcia's independent report last year."
American attorney Michael Garcia, the FIFA ethics investigator who looked into the allegations, quit in 2014 over the organization's refusal to publish his full report. A version of the document — corrected and modified by FIFA's attorneys — was eventually released, exonerating Qatar's bid.
Following news of the arrests, Vitaly Mutko, sports minister for Russia, which is set to host the 2018 World Cup, told the Associated Press ''we've got nothing to hide." He insisted that the country had "always acted within the law."
Four individuals, including the former FIFA executive Chuck Blazer, and two corporate, defendants have already entered guilty pleas.
Arrested alongside Webb were Jack Warner, a former FIFA vice-president kicked off the executive committee in 2011 over corruption claims, and an array of Latin American soccer figures: Eduardo Li, president of the Costa Rican soccer federation, José Maria Marin, the ex-president of the Brazilian Football Confederation who helps organize the Olympic soccer tournaments, Rafael Esquivel, head of the Venezuelan federation, Costa Takkas, attaché to the Concacaf president, and Julio Rocha, a Nicaraguan FIFA development officer. Nicolás Leoz, the former chief of South American football, and various sports marketing executives, are also indicted.
The officials were gathered at the five-star Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich for FIFA's annual meeting which was set to reelect Sepp Blatter as president on Friday — an election that Blatter's spokesman told journalists would still take place.
'Blatter is not dancing in his office. He is just very calm, he sees what happens and is fully cooperative.'
Walter De Gregorio also insisted at a press conference on Wednesday morning that the 2018 and 2022 World Cups would go ahead as planned. He said FIFA was actually the injured party when it came to how the World Cups had been awarded, and that the organisation had itself instigated the Swiss police investigation. "You don't believe me but I say it again: this [investigation] for FIFA is good," he said. "It's not good for image, not good for reputation, but in terms of cleaning up [the sport], this is good.
"He [Blatter] is not dancing in his office. He is just very calm, he sees what happens and is fully cooperative. He is not a kind of happy man today but knows this is the consequence of what we initiated. It's a surprise that it happened today but not a surprise that it happens."
A FIFA statement added: "We are pleased to see that the investigation is being energetically pursued for the good of football and believe that it will help to reinforce measures that FIFA has already taken."
The European soccer body UEFA released a statement saying it was "astonished and saddened by the events" of today. "An informal meeting of the UEFA Executive Committee will take place this afternoon in Warsaw prior to the UEFA Europa League final to discuss the matter and further communication will be made in due course," it said.
Mark Palios, former chief executive of the Football Association, told the BBC that Wednesday's events showed FIFA were not above the law. "People say it's a bad day for football, personally I think when they reflect it will be a good for football," he said.
FIFA has also come under mounting criticism from human rights groups, following revelations of abuses of workers' rights in Qatar. The country has admitted that 1,000 migrant workers from Nepal, India, and Bangladesh died in the country in 2012 and 2013.
Recently, Qatar has been accused of denying Nepalese workers permission to return home to attend the funerals of those who died in the recent earthquake.
Follow Miriam Wells on Twitter: @missmbc
Additional reporting by Pierre Longeray and Ben Bryant.