Washington: Swiss police arrested the two top soccer bosses in the Americas on Thursday on suspicion of taking millions of dollars in bribes linked to television rights, widening a graft probe into world soccer’s governing body.
Switzerland’s Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) named the men as Alfredo Hawit of Honduras, acting president of the CONCACAF region and a FIFA vice president, and Juan Angel Napout of Paraguay, head of the South American soccer federation CONMEBOL. CONCACAF administers soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean.
The officials were detained in pre-dawn raids at the behest of the U.S. Department of Justice. The FOJ said it would ask the United States to submit a formal extradition request within 40 days, which both men had said they would resist.
The FOJ said the allegations were that they took money “in return for selling marketing rights in connection with soccer tournaments in Latin America, as well as World Cup qualifying matches.”
In the United States, a law enforcement source said that authorities would name 16 new defendants in an indictment set to be made public on Thursday by the Justice Department.
The source said the people were mainly from the Western Hemisphere and that the indictment deals in part with allegations of corruption in the award of broadcast rights for soccer.
Among those expected to be charged include Brazil’s soccer chief Marco Polo del Nero and its ex-soccer chief Ricardo Teixeira, a source at FIFA said.
The investigation also unfolded in Miami, where FBI agents searched the office of Media World, an affiliate of Spanish media giant Imagina Group, a source familiar with the matter said. Media World was one of the unidentified sports marketing companies mentioned in a U.S. indictment in May as having agreed to pay a bribe to a high-ranking soccer official in the Americas, sources told Reuters in July.
Imagina Group said in a statement that it would dismiss any person who may have committed illegal acts if there were sufficient evidence.
The raid on the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich echoed arrests at the same place in May that plunged FIFA into crisis. Since then, FIFA’s veteran president Sepp Blatter has announced his resignation, he and other officials have been suspended, and a host of criminal probes into FIFA officials have begun, triggering huge external pressure for deep reforms.
The two arrested men and their representatives were not immediately available for comment.