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FIFA officials again raided before dawn, arrests made

A man stands in front of the logo at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland on Dec. 2. (Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP)

A man stands in front of the logo at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland on Dec. 2. (Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP)

(Walter Bieri / Associated Press)

FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, was again rocked by a wave of pre-dawn arrests Thursday as Swiss authorities rounded up current and former senior officials on suspicion of racketeering, money laundering and fraud.

The raids were first reported by the New York Times.

At least some of the arrests took place at the same luxury Zurich hotel where FIFA officials were arrested in May as part of a U.S. Department of Justice probe that led to charges against 18 soccer and marketing officials who were accused of rigging World Cup bids and delivering lucrative broadcast and marketing deals in exchange for bribes.

The Times, citing law enforcement sources, said more than a dozen people were expected to be charged following Thursday’s arrests, nearly doubling the size of the criminal investigation. Exactly who was detained was not clear but the Times said indictments could be unsealed as early as Thursday morning.

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The FBI, federal prosecutors in New York and U.S. tax agents have been investigating FIFA for years, the newspaper said. The Department of Justice eventually determined it had jurisdiction to bring charges against foreign officials because some of the alleged schemes were launched on U.S. soil and used American banks.

The latest charges, expected to include racketeering, money laundering and fraud, could hit South and Central American soccer leaders hard, officials told the Times.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who announced he will step down as president in February, and Jerome Valcke, the group’s secretary general, were not among those targeted. Both have already been suspended by FIFA following internal investigations and Swiss authorities have opened their own criminal inquiry into Blatter’s conduct.

Thursday’s arrests came as FIFA’s executive committee convened in Switzerland for a two-day meeting to discuss reforming the organization. Many of the biggest World Cup sponsors, among them Adidas, McDonald’s, Visa and Coca-Cola, released a letter this week urging FIFA to ensure independent oversight of those efforts, which were said to include term limits for the president and executive committee members and transparency in salaries and bonuses.

In their letter the sponsors said independent oversight would “enhance FIFA’s credibility.” They added respect for human rights, integrity, leadership and gender equality were also needed to enact the kind of “cultural change” the organization needs to move forward.

Sony and Emirates are among a number of companies that have cut ties with FIFA over the scandal and replacements have so far proved difficult to find. As a result, ESPN reported the defections, plus mounting legal costs, left the organization with a $100 million loss in 2015.

Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11.

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