(QCOSTARICA) — Eduardo Li, president of the Federación Costarricense de Fútbol (Fedefútbol) – Costa Rica’s Soccer Federation – is among the FIFA officials arrested on corruption charges, confirmed the U.S. Department of Justice.
Li, who was attending the FIFA annual meeting in Zurich, was led by the authorities from his room to a side-door exit of the hotel.
Swiss authorities conducted an extraordinary early Wednesday morning (Tuesday night in Costa Rica) operation, backed by an F.B.I. investigation, alleging widespread corruption in FIFA over the past two decades, involving bids for World Cups as well as marketing and broadcast deals.
A total of 14 officials of the FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, gathered at the elegant five-star Baur au Lac hotel in Switzerland, were arrested and face extradition to the United States.
After the arrests, Swiss authorities said they had opened criminal cases related to the bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. “In the course of said proceedings,” the Swiss officials said, “electronic data and documents were seized today at FIFA’s head office in Zurich.”
The U.S. Department of Justice indictment names 14 people on charges including racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy. In addition to senior soccer officials, the indictment also named sports-marketing executives from the United States and South America who are accused of paying more than US$150 million in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for media deals associated with major soccer tournaments.
“The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement.
“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,” she said.
Last year, he oversaw Costa Rica’s hosting of the Under-17 Women’s World Cup.
He is also a member of the executive committee of Concacaf and of the panel that oversees its regional championship tournament, the Gold Cup.
BILLIONS OF DOLLARS
The international governing body of soccer collects billions of dollars in revenue, mostly from sponsorship and television rights for World Cups.
It has persistently been dogged by reports of corruption which it says it investigates itself, but until now it has escaped major criminal cases in any country.
In particular, the decision to award the World Cup to Qatar, a tiny desert country with no domestic tradition of soccer, was heavily criticized by soccer officials in Western countries. FIFA was forced to acknowledge that it is too hot to play soccer there in the summer when the cup is traditionally held, forcing schedules around the globe to be rewritten to move the cup.
Qatar’s stock market fell sharply as news of the Swiss investigation emerged. A Russian official said his country would still host the 2018 World Cup.
Sources: Reuters, Nacion.com, NYtimes.com