Swiss police have confirmed six leading football officials have been arrested and detained pending extradition to the United States on federal corruption charges related to Fifa.
An international law enforcement collaboration resulted in morning raids at the Hotel Bauer au Lac in Zurich where officials were staying ahead of the 65th Fifa congress.
The arrests began around 6am local time, with police covering the detained with bed sheets as they led them to waiting cars.
Fifa has called a press conference for 1100CET at which the organisation’s director of communications and public affairs Walter De Gregorio will face the media.
World football governing body president Sepp Blatter is not believed to have been arrested, but Swiss police revealed six figures are set to be questioned over fraud allegations.
“By order of the Federal Office of Justice (FOJ), six soccer officials were arrested in Zurich on Wednesday and detained pending extradition,” a statement from Zurich police confirmed.
“The US authorities suspect them of having received bribes totalling in the millions of US dollars. The FOJ’s arrest warrants were issued further to a request by the US authorities.
“The US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York is investigating these individuals on suspicion of the acceptance of bribes and kick-backs between the early 1990s and the present day.
“The bribery suspects – sports media and promotion representatives – are alleged to have been involved in schemes to make payments to the soccer functionaries (delegates of Fifa and its sub-organisations) totalling more than 100 million US dollars.
“In return, it is believed that they received media, marketing, and sponsorship rights in connection with soccer tournaments in Latin America. According to the US request, these crimes were agreed and prepared in the US, and payments were carried out via US banks.”
Zurich police confirmed the extradition process will begin immediately, subject to appeal, while a senior official within the US law enforcement ranks expressed shock at the two decades of alleged money-laundering and fraud.
“We’re struck by just how long this went on for and how it touched nearly every part of what Fifa did,” the unnamed source told the New York Times. “It just seemed to permeate every element of Fifa and was just their way of doing business. It seems like this corruption was institutionalised.”
The timing could not be more striking, with Blatter up for re-election as Fifa president on Friday – an election he is favourite to win against opponent Prince Ali bin al Hussein, who was reticent to pass judgement on the arrests.
“Today is a sad day for football,” the Jordanian said. “Clearly this is a developing story, the details of which are still emerging. It would not be appropriate to comment further at this time.”