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Fresh arrests likely in Fifa corruption scandal, says US attorney general
US prosecutors have vowed to make a fresh wave of arrests involving both "entities and individuals" after new evidence emerged in their wide-ranging investigation into Fifa corruption. The Swiss authorities, moreover, have seized property in the Alps in relation to alleged money laundering.
The Swiss attorney general, Michael Lauber, also confirmed a 2005 contract bearing the signature of Sepp Blatter that involved the sale of World Cup TV rights to the disgraced former Fifa official Jack Warner for a fraction of their true value is now part of the investigation.
The contract threatens to drag the Fifa president, who has refused to travel to the US since the scandal broke, closer to the epicentre of the investigation. Neither Lynch nor Lauber would comment on which individuals or entities are under suspicion. Blatter has insisted he is "clean", saying: "I have my conscience and I know I'm an honest man. I am clean. I am not a worried man."
As Swiss and US authorities gave a joint update on their parallel investigations into what has been called "a World Cup of fraud", the US attorney general, Loretta Lynch, said a new wave of arrests is looming.
Fifa was thrown into crisis in May by dramatic arrests and indictments that alleged wide-ranging money laundering, racketeering and fraud. The arrests were made on the eve of Fifa's congress to re-elect Blatter as president.
"Separate and apart from the pending indictment, our investigation remains active and ongoing. It has in fact expanded since May. The scope of our investigation is not limited and we are following the evidence where it leads," Lynch said at a press conference with Lauber in Zurich. "We do anticipate pursuing additional charges against individuals and entities."
Asked whether those charged could include global federations such as Fifa and confederations such as the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (Concacaf) or the South American Football Confederation (Conmebol), Lynch said they could if offences took place under US jurisdiction but refused to comment further. "If they used the US financial system, we feel we would have the ability to charge them," said Lynch, who in May outlined the scale of the US department of justice charges against 14 individuals, including nine current or former Fifa executives.
Lauber confirmed that among financial assets seized since 27 May were properties including apartments in the Swiss Alps and that 121 suspicious banking transactions are under investigation. It has seized 11 terabytes of data, equivalent to around 900m pages of information. "House searches have been conducted in Switzerland and further evidence has been collected," Lauber said. "Where proportional and needed, financial assets have been seized, including real estate, for example flats in the Swiss Alps. At this point I would like to emphasise that investments in real estate can be misused for the purpose of money laundering."
Swiss authorities are focusing their efforts on allegations concerning the awards of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, while US investigators continue their investigations into allegations of corruption against Fifa officials.
Of the 14 Fifa officials indicted in May, 13 have been arrested of whom three have been charged in US courtrooms and 10 await extradition. Lynch confirmed she ideally wants to prosecute all 14 at the same time but pointed out that defendants could be tried in their absence. In the wake of the May arrests, Blatter was re-elected as Fifa president but promised to step down just five days later amid the spiralling crisis. He has promised to step down as president in February 2016.
Those charged include the former senior Fifa executives entwined with decades of controversy under Blatter, including Warner from Trinidad and Tobago, the former president of Concacaf, and the Paraguayan Nicolás Leoz, and those who claimed to be part of a new wave of reformers, including Warner's replacement, Jeffrey Webb. Warner and Leoz have denied the charges against them while Webb has pleaded not guilty to federal racketeering and bribery charges. Blatter had anointed Webb, a former Fifa vice-president and the head of its anti-racism taskforce, who is now on bail in the US, as his potential successor.
Lynch warned that the US investigation that detailed a web of corruption, money laundering and racketeering mainly involving kickbacks on the sale of TV rights but also allegations of vote buying and bribery was far from over.
"All individuals involved in soccer, through which we teach our children sportsmanship, integrity and the fundamentals of fair play, must be committed to reform and to compliance with the rule of law," she said.
"To anyone who seeks to live in the past and return soccer to the days of corruption and bribery, cronyism and patronage this global response sends a strong message - you are on the wrong side of progress and you do a disservice to the integrity of this wonderful sport."
Lauber refused to put a timescale on the Swiss investigation and implicitly criticised other jurisdictions for not doing enough to help. "This investigation will take much more than the legendary 90 minutes. Let me however assure you, that we are well aware of the public's interest in this investigation and have clearly prioritised based on the interests at stake, but clearly: we are not even near the half-time break," he said. "We are also looking for means to accelerate the procedure; in this context an additional challenge might be seen in the fact some of the information of interest to our criminal proceedings is under seal. It would be helpful if parties involved would cooperate more substantially."
Lauber said Fifa's statement on Sunday night, which sought to explain the basis on which Warner was awarded TV rights to the 2010 and 2014 World Cups for a fraction of their true value, would be considered as part of the investigation.
It said that under the terms of the agreement that "Fifa was to receive a fixed licensing fee as well as a 50% share of any profits related to the subcontracting of these rights.
"The CFU [Caribbean Football Union] made several breaches to the contract and failed to meet its financial obligations. The obligations concerning the required pre-approval for subcontracting were not met either. For these reasons, Fifa terminated its contract with the CFU on 25 July 2011."
The publication of the contract draws Blatter closer to the investigations and further calls into question his links with Warner, who served on the executive committee of world football's governing body for 28 years.
In her speech to fellow prosecutors, Lynch warned no one was beyond the law. "We made it abundantly clear once again that prosecutors around the world will stand together in order to root out corruption and bring wrongdoers to justice - no matter where they are, no matter how complex their crimes and no matter how powerful they may be," she said.
"Our message is clear: no individual is impervious to the law. No corrupt organisation is beyond its reach. And no criminal act can evade the concerted efforts of dedicated men and women fighting for justice."
[Source: By Owen Gibson in Zurich, The Guardian, London, 14Sep15]
Corruption and Organized Crime
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