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International soccer officials corrupted their global game by taking millions of dollars in bribes for sponsorship and event hosting, U.S. officials said Wednesday morning.
The U.S. Justice Department announced the charges against the FIFA executives—which include alleged racketeering, money laundering and wire fraud offenses—and unsealed a 47-count indictment as well as several previously secret guilty pleas. U.S. authorities said nine soccer officials and five sports media and promotions executives faced corruption charges involving more than $150 million in bribes.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FBI Director James Comey held a press conference Wednesday to discuss the charges.
"They were expected to uphold the rules that keep soccer honest and to protect the integrity of the game, instead they corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their interests and to enrich themselves," Lynch said of the officials.
As an example of this alleged corruption, she said the U.S. investigation found the 2016 Copa America was "used as a vehicle" to earn executives $110 million in bribes. That tournament is scheduled to be held in the United States—its first time outside of cities in South America, Lynch said.
The attorney general alleged that such corruption took place "tournament after tournament."
Lynch said the indictment alleges that such actions extended to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and the 2011 FIFA presidential elections.
Several top-ranking international soccer officials were arrested Wednesday morning in Switzerland for U.S. extradition.
FIFA, international soccer's governing body, is often cited as "scandal-plagued" and corrupt following years of reports detailing kickbacks and bribes. FIFA recorded more than $2 billion in revenue last year, and total multi-year revenue linked to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil came in at more than $4.8 billion, the organization said in its annual financial report.
Jeffrey Webb and Jack Warner—the current and former presidents of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football—were among the headline names included in the U.S. announcement. CONCACAF is the U.S.-based continental organization under FIFA. The FBI raided the group's Miami Beach headquarters, according to the DOJ.
Much of the U.S. inquiry focuses on CONCACAF, whose Trinidadian former boss Warner was regularly dogged by accusations of corruption before he resigned in 2011, at which point FIFA terminated its investigations of him.
U.S. law gives its courts broad powers to investigate crimes committed by foreigners on foreign soil if money passes through U.S. banks or other activity takes place there.
"All of these defendants abused the U.S. financial system and violated U.S. law, and we intend to hold them accountable," Lynch said.
In addition to Webb and Warner, the U.S. charged officials from Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, Costa Rica, Venezuela, the Cayman Islands, Nicaragua and Brazil.
The DOJ also named four sports marketing executives as defendants: Three are from Argentina-based firms, and one is from Miami-headquartered Traffic Sports USA. A broadcasting executive was also charged for allegedly serving as an intermediary between illegal payments.
Separate from the U.S. investigation, Swiss prosecutors said they had opened their own criminal proceedings against unidentified people on suspicion of mismanagement and money laundering related to the awarding of rights to host the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Data and documents were seized from computers at FIFA's Zurich headquarters, the Swiss prosecutors said.
Officials said that following the arrests, accounts at several banks in Switzerland had been blocked.
Other European countries may participate in the Swiss case against FIFA officials in light of Wednesday's events, Smith College sports economist Andrew Zimbalist told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street."
FIFA presidential elections are scheduled for Friday May 29 in Zurich. Current head Sepp Blatter will face off against Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan in what will be only the fourth contested presidential vote in 50 years.
The incumbent was widely expected to win, according to several reports.
"This is a positive development—I would hope that it leads to them indicting Mr. Blatter soon," Zimbalist said of the U.S. charges.
Blatter has led the group since 1998, seeing FIFA through several public scandals during his tenure, including questions of voting impropriety that led to the choice of Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup.
Kickbacks came to the forefront of the organization's public relations with an investigation conducted by FIFA's own ethics committee into illegal payments made by now-defunct marketing firm ISL. The resulting report cleared Blatter of any criminal or ethical misdeeds related to the kickbacks to other FIFA executives from 1992 to 2000. Still, the investigation concluded that his actions may have been "clumsy" for not controlling the corruption.
Joao Havelange, Blatter's predecessor who was implicated in the kickbacks, resigned his title as honorary president just before the ISL report's release.
—Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article did not specify the first name of an individual who pleaded guilty.