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Fifa vote delay urged after arrests

Published 27/05/2015

Jeffrey Webb is understood to have been arrested in Switzerland
Jeffrey Webb is understood to have been arrested in Switzerland

Uefa has called for Friday's election of a new president for football's world governing body Fifa to be postponed after nine of its officials were accused of breeding decades of "rampant, systemic and deep-rooted" corruption.

The hard-hitting allegations were made by US authorities, raising massive questions over the organisation's presidential election on Friday and the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar. A separate Swiss investigation has been launched into possible criminal mismanagement of the allocations of these.

The Fifa officials, including vice-president Jeffrey Webb, former vice-president Jack Warner and seven others, have been charged with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies in connection with an alleged "24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer", the US justice department said.

In light of the charges, Fifa's ethics committee immediately banned 11 people who are now being prosecuted from carrying out any football-related activities on a national and international level.

Hans-Joachim Eckert, chairman of Fifa's adjudicatory chamber of the Ethics Committee, said: "The charges are clearly related to football and are of such a serious nature that it was imperative to take swift and immediate action. The proceedings will follow their course in line with the Fifa Code of Ethics."

Uefa said today's events show, "once again, that corruption is deeply rooted in Fifa's culture".

It claimed the Fifa Congress is at risk of turning in to a "farce" and European associations will have to "consider carefully" if they should even bother to attend.

The statement adds: "In the meantime, the members of the Uefa executive committee are convinced that there is a strong need for a change to the leadership of this Fifa and strongly believe that the Fifa Congress should be postponed, with new Fifa presidential elections to be organised within the next six months."

Fifa president Sepp Blatter, who is now under a fierce spotlight though he is not one of those arrested, issued a statement claiming that the bombshell legal actions are a positive step.

Despite years of negative headlines, Mr Blatter, 79, who is the overwhelming favourite to win a fifth term of office, added: "As unfortunate as these events are, it should be clear that we welcome the actions and the investigations by the US and Swiss authorities and believe that it will help to reinforce measures that Fifa has already taken to root out any wrongdoing in football.

"While there will be many who are frustrated with the pace of change, I would like to stress the actions that we have taken and will continue to take. In fact, today's action by the Swiss Office of the Attorney General was set in motion when we submitted a dossier to the Swiss authorities late last year.

"Let me be clear: such misconduct has no place in football and we will ensure that those who engage in it are put out of the game. Following the events of today, the independent Ethics Committee - which is in the midst of its own proceedings regarding the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 Fifa World Cups - took swift action to provisionally ban those individuals named by the authorities from any football-related activities at the national and international level."

During his 17-year tenure there have been numerous corruption allegations surrounding Fifa officials but he still holds the formal backing from the Asian, African and South American confederations.

The defendants also include US and South American sports marketing executives who the department said "are alleged to have systematically paid and agreed to pay well over 150 million US dollars (£98 million) in bribes and kickbacks to obtain lucrative media and marketing rights to international soccer tournaments".

The FA, English football's governing body, has nominated rival Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan as the next president.

Football Association chairman Greg Dyke said: "There must be a question mark over whether the election should take place in these circumstances."

US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the 47-strong count charge sheet alleges corruption that is "rampant, systemic and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States".

She said: "It spans at least two generations of soccer officials who, as alleged, have abused their positions of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks."

Events that were influenced by corruption included the award of the 2010 World Cup to South Africa and the 2011 Fifa presidential election, she said.

Extradition would be the next step in the legal process so those charged could face prosecution in the US.

Seven of the officials, including Webb, were arrested in an early morning raid at a Zurich hotel today carried out by Swiss authorities at the request of the US.

Director James Comey of the FBI said: "Undisclosed and illegal payments, kickbacks, and bribes became a way of doing business at Fifa."

The guilty pleas of four individual and two corporate defendants were revealed by the US today, including that of Chuck Blazer, the long-serving former general secretary of Concacaf Champions League.

The Swiss police raided the headquarters of Fifa in Zurich today where it gathered data and documents as part of their investigation into "irregularities" surrounding the major tournaments.

Warner claimed: "I have been afforded no due process and I have not even been questioned in this matter. I reiterate that I am innocent of any charges."

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