Two Top FIFA Officials Arrested in Ongoing US Probe

UEFA president Michel Platini attends the qualifying draw for the 2018 World Cup on July 25. Photo: Tatyana Zenkovich / EPA

ZURICH — Two top football officials were arrested Thursday in a pre-dawn raid at the same Zurich hotel several others were taken into custody in late May, Swiss authorities said.

Swiss justice authorities did not release names but DPA has learned the two arrested officials were FIFA vice presidents Juan Angel Napout of Paraguay and Alfredo Hawit Banegas of Honduras.

The raids were carried out by Swiss authorities in the context of a U.S.-led investigation on charges of racketeering, money laundering and fraud.

The Swiss Federal Office of Justice, or FOJ, said that "according to the U.S. arrest requests, they are suspected of accepting bribes of millions of dollars.

"The high-ranking FIFA officials are alleged to have taken the money in return for selling marketing rights in connection with football tournaments in Latin America, as well as World Cup qualifying matches.

"According to the arrest requests, some of the offenses were agreed and prepared in the USA. Payments were also processed via U.S. banks."

Police officers entered the posh Baur au Lac hotel through a side entrance at 6am local time and the detained were whisked away in black limousines a few minutes later.

FIFA said in a statement it "is aware of the actions taken today by the U.S. Department of Justice.

"FIFA will continue to cooperate fully with the U.S. investigation as permitted by Swiss law, as well as with the investigation being led by the Swiss Office of the Attorney General. FIFA will have no further comment on today's developments."

The latest action comes during a two-day meeting of the FIFA executive committee. The meeting continued as planned, with a reform plan for the battered ruling body the main part of the agenda.

On May 27, two days before the FIFA Congress, Swiss police arrested seven officials as part of the U.S. probe.

They included then vice-president Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands and Brazil's Jose Maria Marin who have since been transferred to the United States.

The other five – Eugenio Figueredo, Eduardo Li, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas and Rafael Esquivel – oppose their extradition to the United States, and their appeals against the FOJ's rulings are pending before the Federal Criminal Court, the FOJ said Thursday.

The U.S. probe centers on the sale of television and marketing rights in the Americas and is not directed directly against FIFA.

But Swiss authorities are probing the ruling body in a separate investigation which centres on the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

The latter investigation is also directed against FIFA president Joseph Blatter on suspicion of mismanagement and having made a "disloyal payment" to UEFA chief Michel Platini in 2011 for FIFA work done between 1998 and 2002.

Blatter and Platini are both suspended over the issue and face sanctions from the ethics committee. As a result, neither Blatter nor Platini were able to take part in the executive committee meetings Wednesday and Thursday.

Blatter was re-elected as president for a fifth term but said on June 2 he would step down at an extraordinary congress on Feb. 26, when the reform package is also to be approved.

Story: DPA / Arne Richter