One of seven defendants arrested in connection with an international racketeering and bribery case involving world football’s governing body was sent to the U.S. Wednesday to face criminal charges.
International media reports indicated that defendant was Cayman’s Jeffrey Webb.
Meanwhile, a U.S. Senate subcommittee held an inquiry Wednesday into a number of issues surrounding FIFA, its regional organization CONCACAF and the U.S. Soccer Federation which some senators inferred had “turned a blind eye” to what was occurring within world football’s governing body.
Seven of the defendants charged in the U.S. racketeering and bribery probe involving top FIFA officials were arrested May 27 in Zurich, Switzerland, just ahead of the football organization’s annual meeting. So far, only one of those defendants has agreed to extradition.
According to a statement released by Switzerland’s Federal Office of Justice Thursday: “[The unnamed man] was handed over to a three-man U.S. police escort in Zurich who accompanied him on the flight to New York.”
Swiss officials have declined to identify the defendant who was sent to the U.S. after agreeing to extradition proceedings last week. However, several international news sources – including Bloomberg News Service, which first reported it – identified the defendant as Webb.
Prosecutors in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York declined to comment on the extradition and no publicly available court records about the case had been released as of press time Thursday.
Webb is facing 15 counts in the 47-count U.S. indictment lodged against nine current and former FIFA officials and five sports marketing executives, alleging that FIFA officials accepted bribes in exchange for awarding the commercialization rights to certain international football tournaments over a period of more than two decades.
Webb, who is the former FIFA vice president and ex-president of CONCACAF (FIFA’s regional governing body for the North and Central America and Caribbean region), has been charged with racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering and money laundering conspiracy.
He could face more than 20 years in prison if convicted in a trial.
An indictment in U.S. federal court is merely an accusation of guilt and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
As the extradition commenced Wednesday, U.S. senators on the Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee were grilling the U.S. Soccer Federation Chief Executive Dan Flynn about what was known regarding the corruption scandal prior to federal court indictments being revealed in late May.
Charles Blazer, one of the FIFA defendants who has already pleaded guilty in connection with the racketeering case, is an American and was CONCACAF’s general secretary until his resignation in 2011. Webb, who is Caymanian, is married to an American doctor and owns several properties in the U.S.
Mr. Flynn said he knew no “cold hard facts” regarding the corruption within FIFA or CONCACAF, and indicated that Blazer had left the U.S. soccer organization in the mid-1980’s.
However, Mr. Flynn did note that he had a “level of discomfort” with the way some of the CONCACAF meetings were being held, particularly under former president Jack Warner. He never formally reported any allegations of misconduct or wrongdoing to authorities, he said.
“I had no hard evidence and we wanted to continue to participate and try to influence [FIFA] as one of [its] 209 members,” Mr. Flynn said. “The second choice we have is to opt out [of FIFA] and with that comes a series of ramifications.”
The “ramifications” included, according to Mr. Flynn, potential expulsion from FIFA and no realistic chance of competing for the World Cup 2026 tournament, which the U.S. covets. The last World Cup competition held in the U.S. was in 1994.
“[FIFA president] Mr. [Sepp] Blatter wields a lot of influence in the organization,” he said.
U.K.-based journalist Andrew Jennings, who first revealed some of the incidents that now form a part of the U.S. federal court indictments nearly 10 years ago, told senators that he thought the U.S. Soccer Federation was being “cowardly” in its approach to the FIFA scandal.
“I suddenly learned today that America is a terribly unimportant little country that is terrified of countries like Guinea-Bissau not agreeing with it,” Mr. Jennings said. “I find this very dispiriting.”
The U.K. journalist urged the U.S. Soccer Federation not to accept the CONCACAF organization’s stated “reforms” following the latest scandal, largely because those familiar with FIFA have heard it all before.
“When Mr. Blazer and Mr. Warner were out … they had reforms, they had reform meetings,” Mr. Jennings said. “They pledged transparency and they brought in two men, Jeffrey Webb from Cayman and Mr. [Enrique] Sanz … from Traffic [USA], from the corrupt sports marketing company?”