Seven FIFA defendants could take months to release
U.S. prosecutors issued extradition requests Wednesday for seven indicted FIFA officials arrested in late May in connection with a racketeering and bribery scandal that has shaken world football’s governing body and the Cayman Islands, where FIFA’s regional vice president’s office is based.
The extradition requests were submitted just before a July 3 deadline was due to expire. The seven men, including former FIFA Vice President Jeffrey Webb and his attaché, U.K. national and long-time Cayman Islands resident Costas Takkas, were arrested May 27 in Zurich, Switzerland on U.S. federal court charges. The charges alleged that the seven men, all current or former FIFA officials, played varying roles in a 25-year scheme that awarded the commercialization rights for international football tournaments to sports marketing companies that paid bribes to the FIFA officials who awarded those contracts.
The seven men have been held in detention separately from one another since their arrests, only being allowed visitors intermittently. None, at least at this stage, have decided to waive extradition and voluntarily return to the U.S. to face charges.
Webb, a native of the Cayman Islands, is married to an American doctor and owns several properties in the U.S. state of Georgia. Takkas has no known ties to the U.S. currently, but he has previously resided in Miami, Florida.
The remaining five FIFA defendants awaiting decisions on their extradition cases are former CONCACAF executive committee member Eduardo Li of Costa Rica, Nicaraguan football official Julio Rocha, CONMEBOL (FIFA’s South American region) executive committee member Rafael Esquivel of Venezuela, FIFA Olympic committee organizer Jose Maria Marin and Uruguayan football official Eugenio Figueredo. Figueredo requested release on bond while awaiting extradition, but was denied by Swiss authorities.
If all seven officials decide to fight extradition to the U.S., it could take months or even a year or more before they are sent back to face charges. According to a press release issued Thursday by the Swiss Federal Office of Justice, the Zurich Cantonal (County) Police must give the seven defendants a hearing on the extradition requests.
Following that hearing, the defendants have 14 days to respond to the request, essentially stating whether they will fight it or assent to it. The 14-day time limit can be extended to 28-days “if sufficient grounds exist.”
Following the hearings and responses, the federal office of justice will then rule on whether the defendants must be extradited. However, that ruling can be contested by the defendants in the Swiss Federal Criminal Court and beyond that to the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland, the country’s highest court. The other two FIFA defendants charged in the U.S. probe, Trinidad’s Jack Warner and Paraguay’s Nicolas Leoz, are also facing extradition requests from the American authorities in their home countries.
Webb’s arrest and subsequent detention by Swiss authorities on the U.S. federal court charges has thrown the local office of CONCACAF, which is FIFA’s regional office for North and Central America and the Caribbean, into some confusion. Webb has been “provisionally dismissed” as the president of CONCACAF and replaced by Honduran football official Alfredo Hawit. However, the CONCACAF office in Cayman has continued to operate in his absence.
It is unclear who is running the local office of CONCACAF at the moment, or whether the organization intends to keep the Cayman Islands office open following Webb’s “provisional dismissal.” Questions about the issue sent by the Cayman Compass to CONCACAF officials last week went unanswered.
One CONCACAF official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the future of the Cayman office would be discussed at the organization’s next executive council meeting scheduled for this month. The CONCACAF office leases space in the Admiral Financial Center building in downtown George Town and that lease is not due to expire until the end of 2017.
An official statement on the issue from CONCACAF’s Miami, Florida office read: “CONCACAF remains focused on organizing world-class events for our fans, players, and teams, and will continue evaluating business operations throughout the region over the long term.”
CONCACAF officials said this week that the organization has hired financial consultants Alvarez & Marsal to review its operations in the wake of the FIFA bribery scandal.
Alvarez & Marsal will do a month-long review of CONCACAF’s operations and recommend certain improvements to financial reporting processes, spending and cash-flow management, third-party vendor relationship management and organizational effectiveness.
“This will help ensure the confederation operates at the highest level of organizational efficiency and accountability going forward,” Ted Howard, CONCACAF’s acting general secretary, said in a statement.
A total of 14 people were named in unsealed indictments on May 27 and another four individuals and two sports marketing companies have already entered guilty pleas in connection with the U.S. investigation.
The only individual to appear in U.S. court on the charges so far is Aaron Davidson of marketing company Traffic USA.
Retiring FIFA President Joseph “Sepp” Blatter and General Secretary Jerome Valcke were not named in any of the unsealed indictments in late May. Neither man attended the Women’s World Cup in Canada in the past month as scheduled, citing “personal reasons” for not attending.
American authorities have said their probe is continuing and that further arrests could occur.