Cayman Islands resident Jeffrey Webb and six other FIFA officials who were arrested in Zurich, Switzerland on Wednesday have indicated they will fight extradition to the U.S.
They face federal charges of racketeering, money laundering and wire fraud in the United States.
Webb, 50, was “provisionally dismissed” Thursday as president of CONCACAF, FIFA’s regional governing body for North and Central America and the Caribbean. CONCACAF executive committee member Eduardo Li, who was also charged in the U.S. racketeering case, was dismissed as well, the organization said in a statement on its website.
Webb’s position as CONCACAF president made him a vice president of FIFA, according to the world football governing association’s rules. CONCACAF Senior Vice President Alfredo Hawit was named as Webb’s replacement.
On Thursday, one of the seven men arrested who initially said he would not fight extradition, has reversed that decision, according to Switzerland’s federal office of justice.
A spokesperson for the office declined to state the reasons why the defendants are fighting extradition.
According to a statement on the Swiss federal office of justice’s website: “For those individuals who are contesting extradition, the federal office of justice will now ask the USA to submit formal extradition requests within the 40-day period provided for in the bilateral extradition treaty. Extradition proceedings will be resumed as soon as these requests have been received.”
According to the extradition treaty, the defendants may be held in prison for the full 40-day period, but it is not required, depending on what the Swiss courts decide.
Until the federal office of justice rules on the case, the seven defendants can always change their minds and agree to simplified extradition proceedings, at which point they would be turned over to U.S. authorities immediately, officials said.
The U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York declined to comment Thursday on the extradition process.
The two defendants who were not in Zurich for FIFA’s annual meeting this week, Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago, and Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay, were detained by authorities in their countries.
Warner posted bond in Trinidad on Thursday and was scheduled to appear in court again in July. A video interview with Warner was posted on Facebook hours before he turned himself in Wednesday evening.
“Nobody in the U.S. has ever interviewed me or asked me any questions,” Warner said in the video. “I am available to talk in a court of law and [the allegations] are proven whether they are true or false. In the meanwhile, they remain as allegations.”
Leoz, 86, was hospitalized Wednesday shortly after the announcement of the U.S. federal investigation into corrupt practices allegedly involving the nine current or former FIFA officials and five businessmen.
The 47-count U.S. federal court indictment issued Wednesday alleged that FIFA officials and the businessmen, who are from the U.S. and South America, participated in a corruption and racketeering scheme that spanned 25 years.
The ultimate goal of the corrupt practices, according to federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York, was to ensure certain sports marketing and promotions companies received the commercial marketing and media rights to international football tournaments, including the World Cup. In exchange, millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks were paid to FIFA officials, the indictment alleges.
New CONCACAF president, Mr. Hawit, said in a statement Thursday that the organization would “continue to cooperate” with the investigation and noted that the probe had not placed any restrictions on the agency’s activities.
“While we are profoundly disappointed by the allegations made by authorities that again CONCACAF has been the victim of fraud, we remain committed to CONCACAF’s goal to develop, promote and manage the game of soccer,” Mr. Hawit said.
U.S. role in the investigation
The wide-ranging international investigation is being conducted by a number of U.S. federal law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York.
There are several U.S. connections in the probe, according to federal law, that would allow the U.S. to enter the case, including that Traffic USA – one of the companies alleged to be involved in the bribery scheme – is based in the U.S. Authorities also raided the Miami Beach, Florida CONCACAF headquarters on Wednesday.
In addition, there are allegations in the indictment that link wire transfers in the various schemes to U.S. banks.
In one case being investigated, it is alleged that in 2012 Webb solicited a US$3 million bribe from Traffic USA for his agreement to sell to the company the rights to 2018 and 2022 World Cup qualifying matches, held at the time by the Caribbean Football Union.
Federal prosecutors allege that a portion of the payment was wired from Traffic International’s bank account in Miami to an HSBC bank in Buffalo, New York. About US$1 million was then bounced – via a front company – to a Hong Kong HSBC account, then to an account at Standard Chartered Bank in New York City and on to credit an account at Fidelity Bank in the Cayman Islands, according to the indictment.
The account in Cayman was held by Webb associate Costas Takkas, who is also charged in the case, according to the indictment. It is alleged that Takkas, after keeping a portion of the bribe money for himself, transferred funds back to the U.S., where they paid for a swimming pool at a Loganville, Georgia residence owned by Webb, and other real estate he owned in Stone Mountain, Georgia.