U.S. asks Switzerland for extradition of 7 FIFA officials

The United States has submitted a formal request for Switzerland to extradite seven FIFA officials arrested in Zurich as part of a corruption probe that has rocked soccer's world governing body.

Switzerland's Federal Office of Justice said Thursday that the requests were received from the U.S. Embassy in Bern. The requests submitted late Wednesday met a 40-day deadline because the seven were detained early May 27 in raids on a luxury hotel in FIFA's home city.

All seven men detained in Zurich, including three current and former members of FIFA's executive committee, have already objected to extradition. They each face about 20 years in prison if convicted of all the charges against them.

The widening American investigation alleges bribery and racketeering involving high-ranking FIFA officials, worth more than $150 million, over a 24-year span.

The U.S. Department of Justice published an indictment of 14 soccer and marketing officials in May. It alleged bribery linked to the awarding of broadcast rights for international tournaments in North America and South America.

“These crimes are thought to have been agreed and prepared in the USA, and payments were allegedly routed through US banks,” the Swiss Justice Ministry said in a statement Thursday.

The seven will be granted a 14-day period to respond to the extradition request, the ministry said.

Swiss officials will then rule “within a few weeks” on whether to extradite them, the ministry said, and that ruling can be appealed to Switzerland's top criminal court and supreme court.

The seven men include FIFA vice president Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands and Eugenio Figueredo of Uruguay, who was arrested two days before his FIFA vice presidential term expired.

Costa Rican soccer federation President Eduardo Li was arrested two days before he was due to formally join FIFA's executive committee.

Former Brazilian federation chief Jose Maria Marin led the 2014 World Cup local organizing committee and is a member of the FIFA panel organizing the men's and women's tournaments at next year's Olympic Games.

The others are Venezuela Football Assn. chief Rafael Esquivel; FIFA staffer Julio Rocha, a development officer from Nicaragua; and Costas Takkas, a Briton who works for CONCACAF President Webb.

Seven others among the 14 indicted include disgraced former FIFA vice president Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago, and former FIFA executive committee member Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay, the longtime former president of South American governing body CONMEBOL.

Four others have entered guilty pleas, which were unsealed in May. They include American former FIFA executive panel member Chuck Blazer and two sons of Warner.

The indictment revealed that Blazer admitted being part of a $10-million bribe scheme with Warner for supporting South Africa's successful bid to host the 2010 World Cup. A third South American FIFA voter was also involved, Blazer alleged.

FIFA has acknowledged that its secretary-general, Jerome Valcke, helped transfer the money through its accounts at South Africa's request. FIFA and Valcke said the cash was believed to be for soccer projects for the African diaspora in the Caribbean, and was approved by Julio Grondona of Argentina, the chairman of FIFA's finance committee who died last year.

American law enforcement officials have confirmed that FIFA President Sepp Blatter is a target of the investigation, which is expected to bring more indictments.

Blatter said June 2 he would leave office within months, as pressure built from the American case and a separate Swiss investigation into allegations of money laundering linked to the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup events to Russia and Qatar, respectively.

Blatter denies wrongdoing and cannot be extradited from his native Switzerland to the U.S. without his consent.

Still, he risks arrest in many countries. He did not travel to New Zealand for the Under-20 World Cup final played June 20 and will not go to Canada for the Women's World Cup final in Vancouver on Sunday.

Blatter was reelected for a fifth four-year term on May 29, then four days later announced his planned FIFA exit.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

2 a.m.: This article has been updated throughout with additional  details.

1 a.m.: This article has been updated with additional details and background.

This article was originally posted at 12:45 a.m.

57°