FIFA reputation for corruption has reignited spectacularly two days before a presidential election expected to give Sepp Blatter four more years at the head of world soccer.
Dawn raids by Swiss federal authorities on FIFA headquarters and a luxury hotel in Zurich supported separate federal cases in the United States and Switzerland.
The U.S. probe relates to racketeering, money laundering and kickbacks in marketing deals for soccer tournaments in the U.S., Brazil and across Latin America.
Two of FIFA’s eight vice presidents and a new member of its executive committee were among officials arrested in Zurich.
The Swiss investigation is about wrongdoing in the controversial 2018-2022 World Cup bidding contests which gave hosting rights to Russia and Qatar.
Some questions and answers about the case:
Q: Does this case touch FIFA President Sepp Blatter and Friday’s election?
A: Not directly. Blatter is not identified by name in either case.
FIFA insisted Wednesday that the election will proceed on Friday, when Blatter and FIFA vice president Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan will compete for votes from 209 member federations.
Two presidents of voting federations, Eduardo Li of Costa Rica and Rafael Esquivel of Venezuela, were arrested Wednesday. Li was due to formally join FIFA’s executive committee on Friday as a delegate for CONCACAF, soccer’s governing body in North and Central America.
The Swiss probe follows FIFA making a criminal complaint last November about conduct by non-Swiss nationals in the World Cup votes.
The Swiss attorney general’s office said Wednesday that FIFA is the “injured party” in its case, which involves “suspicion of criminal mismanagement and of money laundering.”
Q: Could Russia or Qatar lose their right to host the World Cup?
A: No, according to FIFA spokesman Walter de Gregorio, speaking at a news conference Wednesday.
FIFA effectively closed an ethics committee probe of its next two World Cup hosts last December, after a two-year investigation by prosecutor Michael Garcia.
The former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York had resigned days earlier protesting FIFA’s handling of his dossier which concluded that wrongdoing by bidders did not influence the hosting vote results.
Blatter stood by Russia and Qatar six months ago.
“There must be huge upheaval, new elements must come to the fore, in order to change this,” the FIFA president said.
Still, Swiss authorities want to speak to 10 current or previous FIFA executive committee members who voted in December 2010.
It is hard not to see Wednesday’s developments as potentially huge.
Q: What is the U.S. case about?
A: This was the stunning detail revealed on Wednesday, in a federal case that began four years ago in fallout from the last round of FIFA scandals following the World Cup votes and 2011 presidential election.
It involves a 14-defendant, 47-count indictment of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies in federal court in Brooklyn, the U.S. Department of Justice said.
Those named include FIFA vice president Jeffrey Webb, the CONCACAF president and a Cayman Islands banker who has been seen as a potential FIFA president. He was arrested at the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich.
Webb’s predecessor, Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago, is also named. Warner resigned from FIFA in disgrace in 2011 to avoid sanctions in a bribery scandal during the last presidential election.
Chuck Blazer, for nearly two decades the most senior American official at FIFA, was among four men whose guilty pleas were unsealed. Blazer pocketed millions of dollars in marketing commissions and avoided paying tax. He has been a cooperating witness for the FBI since leaving soccer in 2013 and forfeited almost $2 million.
The wide-ranging case rips through two of FIFA’s six continental bodies: the North and Central American, and Caribbean (CONCACAF) body and South American body CONMEBOL.
It involves kickbacks from the regions’ biggest tournaments.
Q: How did this case kick off?
A: It all seems to stem from Qatar’s defeat of the United States to get the 2022 World Cup hosting rights.
Months later, Qatari official Mohamed bin Hammam rode that momentum to challenge Blatter for the FIFA presidency and conspired with Warner to bribe key Caribbean voters. Some of those voters blew the whistle to Blazer, who presented evidence to FIFA.
The rupture of a 20-year close working relationship between Warner and Blazer — CONCACAF’s president and top administrator — and led to an IRS investigation of the New York-based body’s accounts which exposed both men to federal scrutiny outside FIFA’s control.
Meanwhile, FIFA tried to police itself and the World Cup votes with an in-house ethics committee it then undermined. Garcia’s walk-out fueled suspicions soccer’s world governing body was not fully serious about fighting corruption.