Swiss authorities arrested fourteen FIFA officials today in Zurich, Switzerland, at the request of the United States Department of Justice. The individuals now face extradition to the US, where they face charges including racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering. The Department of Justice said that the charges stem from:
… a 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer.
Among the officials arrested was Rafael Esquivel, the president of the Federacion Venezolana de Futbol [Venezuelan Football Association]. Esquivel has served as president of that organization for the past 28 years.
According to El Universal, Esquivel likely found out about his imminent arrest early in the morning, as news of the police operation began to spread through the luxurious Baur au Lac hotel hosting the officials “like gunpowder” starting at around 6:00 AM. Esquivel had enough time to finish breakfast before being escorted out of the hotel by Swiss officers at around 11:00 AM.
Officials Accused in $150 Million Scheme
The United States Department of Justice has accused the fourteen FIFA officials with accepting bribes in excess of $150,000,000. In a press release issued earlier today, the Department of Justice said:
… [the defendants] are alleged to have systematically paid and agreed to pay well over $150 million in bribes and kickbacks to obtain lucrative media and marketing rights to international soccer tournaments.
The Attorney General of the United States, Loretta Lynch, announced today that the officials were suspected of receiving $110 million in bribes in relation to the 2016 Copa America. The tournament is being held in the United States for the first time.
Four of the defendants have already pleaded guilty to the charges.
MUD Rejects Call for May 30 March
The Mesa de la Unidad Democratica sent shockwaves through the Venezuelan opposition today by refusing to officially participate in a nation-wide march Leopoldo Lopez called for this coming Saturday. The country’s largest political opposition bloc issued a lengthy statement in which it justified its planned absence from the march, saying that certain “circumstances” stemming from the proximity of the date will prohibit it from officially participating in the demonstrations.
Despite declining the invitation to march, the statement clarifies that the organization stands behind Lopez and the country’s other political prisoners fully:
We respect, value and share Leopoldo Lopez’s reasons for calling for a march. The release of the political prisoners, an end to repression and the announcement of the parliamentary elections and their monitoring by qualified international observes are points that make up part of the MUD’s agenda.
The organization’s head, Jesus Torrealba, said that he might be able to find the time to attend, and while he said that the march was “legitimate”, he stressed that the MUD has had nothing to do with it.