FIFA Keeping Arrested Officials in Power—For Now

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The Associated Press

FIFA characterizes Wednesday morning’s corruption arrests of its officials as “the consequences of what we initiated.” But the international governing body for soccer refuses to initiate consequences or for the FIFA officials arrested thus far.

“We’re talking about something that started five hours ago,” Walter De Gregorio, director of communications and public affairs, told the media assembled in Zurich late Wednesday morning. “We’re still trying to gather information.”

The spokesman says the arrested deserve a “presumption of innocence,” so, for now, FIFA won’t force them from power. He says an internal “ethics committee” will decide their fate—at least within FIFA.

The police rounded up seven current FIFA officials, including Eduardo Li, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Jose Maria Marin, Eugenio Figueredo, and Rafael Esquivel. The authorities also arrested Jeffrey Webb, a current vice president, and Jack Warner, a former vice president, in addition to several businessmen.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch alleges that the FIFA malefactors pocketed $150 million in bribes. A half dozen of the officials already plan to fight extradition from Switzerland to the United States.

“You cannot expect that at six o’clock in the morning the attorney general shows up and arrests people and that we would say that they are to be suspended right away,” the spokesman said to an auditorium packed with reporters. He did not mention removing the charged officials through temporary suspensions until they resolve their cases or other options short of immediate termination.

De Gregorio repeatedly maintained that FIFA, rather than the perpetrator of the malfeasance, deserved credit for cleaning up the corruption. He insisted that the raids, though catching the body by surprise as they did the sleeping officials, stemmed from FIFA appealing to authorities for assistance on November 18.

“We can clean up until a certain point,” De Gregorio reasoned. “But we need the support of the authorities.”