Football

Fifa corruption probe has taken everybody by surprise, expert

Fifa president Sepp Blatter  attends a news conference  in Zurich 26  September 2014
Fifa president Sepp Blatter attends a news conference in Zurich 26 September 2014 Reuters

The arrest of senior members of Fifa is "quite extraordinary”, an expert told RFI Wednesday as two crimininal investigations into corruption within world football's governing body were opened.Seven senior officials were arrested in Zurich on corruption charges at the request of the United States. Two others officials were arrested by the American authorities.

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Separately, Swiss police also seized files and emails at the Fifa headquarters as part of an investigation into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively.

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“We’ve known for many years of the allegations of corruption," says Gavin Hamilton, the editor of World Soccer Magazine.  "We’ve also  known for many years that the FBI was investigating the activities of the central American region Fifa. But for it to happen on a day like this, it’s quite extraordinary.

"For the Swiss authorities to cooperate with the US authorities and to raid the Bord du Lac hotel, the centre of Fifa during the Fifa summit is extraordinary. It’s taken everyone by surprise.”

Many experts weren't expecting the Swiss authorities to act so swiftly in cooperation with the US authorities even though there have been accusations of corruption against Fifa for some time.

According to Swiss prosecutors, those detained are suspected of accepting "bribes and kickbacks between the early 1990s and the present day".

Last year a report said Qatar had bribed top Fifa officials in order to secure its bid of the 2022 World Cup.

The seven people arrested in Zurich include a Fifa vice-president Jeffrey Webb

They are now facing deportation on charges of accepting more than 100 million dollars in bribes.

The US authorities said they also had arrested two other Fifa officials as well as five other suspects not employed by the association on charges of corruption.

The US Justice Department revealed that four individuals and two companies had already pleaded guilty.

The probe happened just two days ahead of Fifa summit, where its president Sepp Blatter, who was first elected in 1998, is supposed to seek reelection.

The organisation's spokesperson Walter de Gregorio said the timing was probably a coincidence, adding it was easier to apprehend the suspects since all of them were in Zurich for the summit.

Blatter is a controversial figure and has often been dogged by controversy and allegations of corruption - and that is why some thought what happened today might make him step down.

"No, the president is not involved,“ said Walter de Gregorio at a press conference. “How can you say he has to step down? He is the president and in two days there’s an election. If the 209 members of the association reelect him, then he will be the president for the next four years.”

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“It’s very difficult to predict what will happen,” World Soccer Magazine editor Gavin Hamilton told RFI. “If the election goes ahead, then he will count on most of the support from Asia, the vast majority of Africa, South America and central America. It’s only really the Europeans that have opposed Blatter, everybody else has been in favour. The problem may be that on Friday that a number of people who wanted to vote for him may be in prison.”

Another question on everybody’s mind is the fate of the 2018 Qatar World Cup. Most experts think Fifa will go ahead without changing its plans, given how much money was invested, especially in Qatar.

“They have to say that everything will go ahead because there are a lot of contracts in place, the stadiums are being build, you have the commercials contracts, the TV deals …” explains Hamilton. “Fifa would lose an awful lot of money if things had to change.”

“But the interesting story is not just the arrest but also the Swiss investigators saying they are investigating Fifa and the voting process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups because that potentially means they are looking at corruption and money-laundering from the decision to award those cups to Russia and Qatar. I think everything could change.”

So far Fifa has only reacted by explaining they didn't know about the probe but that they are collaborating with the Swiss authorities.

“You don’t believe me but this, for Fifa, is good. It’s not good in terms of image and reputation but it’s good in terms of cleaning up and what we did in the last four years,” said de Gregorio

“The main problem with Fifa is that it will only really change when Blatter leaves,” comments Hamilton . “He has held the organisation together, he’s controlled all the different regions and they’ve all voted for him. Everything is falling apart around him at the moment. It’s an extraordinary story.”

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