FIFA and embattled President Sepp Blatter faced more pressure on Monday as U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch warned of new indictments in a widening investigation of corruption in international soccer.
“We do anticipate pursuing additional charges against individuals and entities,” Lynch said in FIFA’s home city, citing unspecified new evidence gathered since the stunning May 27 arrests of seven people at a luxury hotel in Zurich.
Lynch spoke at a news conference alongside her Swiss counterpart, Michael Lauber, whose separate investigation of money laundering appears equally threatening to FIFA and its soon-departing president.
Swiss federal agencies have now seized properties in the Swiss Alps and more evidence during house searches in western Switzerland, said Lauber, who last updated media on his case in June.
“Investment in real estate can be used for the purpose of money laundering,” said Lauber, whose case seems to lead beyond its original focus of FIFA’s criminal complaint about the 2018-2022 World Cup bidding contests.
A total of 121 different bank accounts have been reported as suspicious by a Swiss financial intelligence unit to Lauber’s team of prosecutors, he said.
The two lawyers shared a stage on the sidelines of an annual conference of federal prosecutors, almost four months after the scale of their investigations was made public.
Two days before the FIFA presidential election on May 29, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted 14 soccer and marketing officials in a $150 million bribery and racketeering conspiracy and unsealed six guilty pleas, including Chuck Blazer. The longtime member of FIFA’s executive committee was a key cooperating witness for federal investigators in Brooklyn where Lynch was formerly U.S. Attorney.
Lynch did not comment Monday on whether Blatter is targeted in her case, or if he faced arrest by traveling to a country which has an extradition treaty with the United States.
“I can’t give you any information about Mr. Blatter’s travel plans,” said Lynch, smiling and drawing laughs from a room packed with around 150 journalists in a Zurich hotel.
The Swiss case could spread beyond the World Cup bids won by Russia and Qatar as prosecutors sift through massive amounts of data and documents seized from FIFA headquarters in May and June.
Much of FIFA’s contracts and finances during Blatter’s 17-year presidency now seem open to investigation.
“We have a lot of facts at the moment out of house searches and out of the documents we received,” said Lauber, when asked about an allegation that Blatter knowingly undersold World Cup television rights for the Caribbean in exchange for political support.
Earlier Monday, former FIFA anti-corruption adviser Mark Pieth, a Swiss professor of criminal law, said Blatter should face embezzlement charges for signing the 2005 deal. Then-FIFA vice president Jack Warner profited by millions of dollars from sub-licensing rights to the 2010 and 2014 tournament which cost just $600,000.
Warner is among the 14 men indicted in May. He is fighting extradition to the U.S. from his native Trinidad.
The U.S. indictment alleged a $10 million bribery scheme tied to Warner and Blazer voting for South Africa as 2010 World Cup host, and bribery in broadcasting rights for continental championships in North and South America.
Lynch’s warning that “entities” could be indicted prompted one question about whether the Miami-based CONCACAF governing body and South American body CONMEBOL could be formally charged.
“If they used the U.S. finance system we certainly feel we would have the ability to charge them,” she said.
In responding to the prosecutors, FIFA reissued a previous statement that it is “cooperating with the authorities and will not comment on ongoing investigations.”
Blatter has previously criticized Lynch for ordering arrests in Zurich so close to FIFA’s four-yearly election, which he won. Four days later, he announced he would resign and has cited pressure on FIFA from the dual criminal probes.
FIFA’s 209 member federations will elect Blatter’s successor on Feb. 26 in Zurich.
“I think they have a lot to consider,” Lynch said of FIFA’s response to the cases. “To anyone who seeks to live in the past and to return soccer to the days of corruption and bribery, cronyism and patronage, this global response sends a clear message: you are on the wrong side of progress.”
SOURCE: The Associated Press, Graham Dunbar