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More Charges as FIFA Inquiry Widens

The investigation into corruption and bribery in soccer that in May rocked FIFA, the sport's multibillion-dollar governing body, metastasized on Thursday when United States officials unsealed a new indictment that alleged an even more extensive network of criminal behavior across dozens of countries and that involved some of the most powerful people in international soccer.

Sixteen new defendants were identified, with charges including wire fraud, money laundering and racketeering, aimed almost entirely at individuals from Central and South America. Among them were a former president of Honduras, a judge on the Constitutional Court of Guatemala and the current and former presidents of Brazil's national soccer federation.

Some defendants, federal officials said, participated in bribes involving broadcasting rights for major soccer matches. Others had obstructed justice by trying to hide criminal actions after finding out that they were under investigation.

"This case has been nothing short of one of the most complex, worldwide financial investigations ever conducted," said Richard Weber, the chief of the criminal investigation unit of the Internal Revenue Service who added that the investigation had traced funds through at least 40 countries. "We have identified hundreds of millions of dollars, proceeds that went through bank accounts throughout the world."

About 14 hours before the indictment was unsealed, Swiss authorities conducted predawn arrests in the broad investigation, led by United States officials — notably the United States attorney's office for the Eastern District of New York, the New York field office of the F.B.I. and the I.R.S. By day's end, a huge case that has upended FIFA had nearly doubled in size.

The arrests took place at the same luxury hotel where other FIFA officials were arrested in May. The Swiss police entered the hotel, the Baur au Lac, through a side door at 6 a.m. local time. A hotel manager told visitors in the lobby that they had to leave the property because of "an extreme situation."

The 16 new defendants charged were: Alfredo Hawit; Ariel Alvarado; Rafael Callejas; Brayan Jiménez; Rafael Salguero; Héctor Trujillo; Reynaldo Vasquez; Juan Ángel Napout; Manuel Burga; Carlos Chávez; Luís Chiriboga; Marco Polo del Nero; Eduardo Deluca; José Luis Meiszner; Romer Osuna; and Ricardo Teixeira.

Mr. Callejas is the former president of Honduras. Mr. Trujillo is the judge. Mr. del Nero and Mr. Teixeira are the current and former presidents of Brazil's federation.

Mr. Hawit is the president of Concacaf, the regional confederation that includes North and Central America and the Caribbean. Mr. Napout is the president of Conmebol, the South American confederation. Both are FIFA vice presidents and members of the organization's governing executive committee.

Taken together with the charges unsealed last spring, the United States has now taken criminal action against the three successive presidents of both Concacaf and Conmebol, a signal of the systemic nature of the allegations that span decades. All six of those men were at various times also among FIFA's top leadership.

Hours before the Justice Department disclosed that he, too, was indicted, Mr. Callejas, the president of Honduras in the early 1990s and a former general secretary of the nation's soccer federation, denied he was implicated and voiced regret that Mr. Hawit was implicated in the case.

When a local news reporter asked about social media speculation that he could face charges, Mr. Callejas said: "Why me? I was never a member of Concacaf or FIFA. People are wondering because they want to wonder. There are some who have evil in their soul, but there is no reason to be associated with these issues. Here, everyone presumes something."

In a news conference on Thursday afternoon, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch described what federal officials believe is evidence of corruption. "Consistent with the intergenerational nature of the corruption schemes, they involve payments relating to tournaments that have already been played, as well as matches scheduled into the next decade," she said.

Thursday's charges, coming as FIFA's leaders gathered in Zurich, served as a high-profile reminder that despite the organization's promises of reform, soccer's top officials remain under intense legal scrutiny by the investigation, which involves several government agencies.

"When criminals bring their corrupt activity to our shores and our banks, they will play by our rules," said Diego G. Rodriguez of the F.B.I.'s New York field office.

FIFA released a statement that said it would "continue to cooperate fully with the U.S. investigation as permitted by Swiss law, as well as with the investigation being led by the Swiss Office of the Attorney General."

[Source: By Rebecca R. Ruiz, Matt Apuzzo, Sam Borden and William K. Rashbaum, The News York Times, Washington, 03Dec15]

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Corruption and Organized Crime
small logoThis document has been published on 04Dec15 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.