New York - The unprecedented corruption scandal engulfing FIFA widened on Thursday
with the arrests of two more top officials in another dramatic dawn raid
at a luxury hotel in Zurich.
Swiss authorities again acted on a request from the US justice
department, a repeat of the sweeping arrests in May that set off the
scandal which has shaken world football's governing body to its core.
A source inside FIFA, who requested anonymity, told AFP that the two
officials targeted were South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL)
president Juan Angel Napout, and Alfredo Hawit, head of the
Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association
Both are suspected of taking millions of dollars in bribes in return
for selling marketing rights for major regional tournaments in Latin
America and World Cup qualifying matches, the Swiss Justice ministry
said in a statement.
The arrests were carried out at the five-star Baur au Lac hotel, a
favourite of FIFA's officials, and the same spot where seven top
football executives were arrested in May on suspicion of involvement in
tens of millions of dollars of corruption dating back decades.
The New York Times, which broke the news of the fresh arrests, said
Swiss authorities descended on the hotel at around 07:00 SA time.
Swiss officials have not confirmed the identities of the newest suspects, but said they would do so by day's end.
The arrests were the latest in a series of actions targeting FIFA's senior leadership.
The body's long-time president Sepp Blatter, the subject of criminal
investigation in Switzerland, has been suspended for 90-days and is
facing tougher punishment by FIFA's internal ethics watchdog.
The man who had been tipped to succeed him at a special election in
February, European football chief Michel Platini, has also been
suspended and could be hit with a lifetime ban from football by the end
of the month.
As the latest suspects were taken into custody, FIFA's remaining
leadership was set for a second day of crucial meetings on approving a
reform package aimed at repairing world football's tainted global
FIFA said it would press ahead with that meeting.
In a statement, FIFA also said it was "aware of the actions taken today by the US Department of Justice."
It vowed to "continue to cooperate fully with the US investigation as
permitted by Swiss law as well as with the investigation being led by
the Swiss Office of the Attorney General."
The Times cited several law enforcement officials speaking on
condition of anonymity as saying that the US Justice Department would
unseal indictments in the case later on Thursday.
The Swiss Federal Office
of Justice (FOJ), as the ministry is known, said it had ordered Zurich
police to detain the two individuals "based on arrest requests submitted
by the United States Department of Justice on 29 November 2015."
The US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York,
suspects the two "of accepting bribes of millions of dollars," the FOJ
"Some of the offences were agreed and prepared in the USA. Payments were also processed via US banks," the FOJ further said.
If confirmed that they are the ones being held, Napout of Paraguay
and Hawit, a native of Honduras, will both be facing extradition to the
US, which could be approved "immediately" if neither suspect challenges
the transfer, the FOJ said.
The arrests, and the
meeting on reforms, come on the fifth anniversary of the 2010 vote that
controversially awarded the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022
tournament to Qatar.
That decision set off a cascade of allegations of corruption and skullduggery.
Before his suspension, Blatter appointed prominent sporting official
Francois Carrard to come up with a set of changes aimed at overhauling
FIFA's management structure.
In October, Carrard's reform panel proposed limiting president terms
at 12 years and barring those over 74 from serving on the executive. It
also suggested the pay package of top officials be published annually
and independently audited.
FIFA's executive committee was on Thursday due to decide whether to
send the reform package for adoption at the congress in February.
Meanwhile, a FIFA source who requested anonymity said the executive
committee had been considering expanding the World Cup from 32 teams to
40 in 2026, seen as part of an effort to broaden inclusion.
But executive committee member Wolfgan Niersbach said the body had
failed to agree on the matter, putting the decision off until a later