Sepp Blatter, the top man at FIFA, has emerged as the leading target in a widening criminal scandal investigation underway by FBI agents and federal prosecutors in New York, federal law enforcement officials revealed Tuesday.
The two sources, speaking anonymously because the case is continuing, said that Blatter, the president of FIFA, has become the latest top subject of this country’s criminal probe into allegations that leaders of soccer's world governing body accepted bribes in return for supporting specific countries seeking to play host to the highly lucrative World Cup.
"He's a target," said one of the sources. "He has been for a while."
A second official said FBI agents and prosecutors are leveraging cases among the 14 others indicted in the scandal to gain some of their cooperation and learn what they might know about the rigging of soccer venues and other criminal violations.
As negotiations continue with the others, the source said, federal officials are hoping to "roll them over" on other FIFA officials like Blatter to determine their potential involvement in the scandal.
That is a common tactic in federal conspiracy cases where multiple defendants are involved. It allows federal officials to bargain with less culpable defendants to learn about those higher in the circle. In return, those less involved often are given breaks if they cooperate with law enforcement.
"You work up, and we've got a lot to work with here," the source said.
Blatter announced Tuesday morning that he would be resigning. But it remained unclear whether he was stepping down because he knew he was a target of the investigation or whether he might want to assist U.S. authorities as well.
The U.S. sources said they did not know Blatter's intentions or whether he truly believes he can no longer lead the organization.
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