FIFA: Dozen bank accounts under the scanner in Switzerland

Swiss respond to US calls to freeze suspicious movement of money in Swiss banks
FIFA: Dozen bank accounts under the scanner in Switzerland
FIFA: Dozen bank accounts under the scanner in Switzerland

The Swiss justice ministry has frozen a series of accounts relating to alleged bribes in connection with FIFA, the world’s football governing body.

“We are closely looking at 12 accounts which have an important two digit million figure deposited in them,” Folco Galli, spokesperson for the Swiss Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) told The News Minute. “These payments are related to soccer tournaments in Latin America,” he added.

The Swiss official said US officials believe “corruption money” may have been moved through the now frozen accounts. Galli pointed out that the act of freezing an account is not any reflection of guilt or the absence of it. It is a first step in a long procedure.

The FOJ has issued the first five final decisions and ordered to hand over the documents concerning different bank accounts. These decisions are not yet executable. Delays in transferring details of banks accounts and related details can only happen if any of the accused challenge the legal action in Swiss courts. At the end, US authorities may ask for information based on a final and executable confiscation order to hand over the frozen assets.

It is widely believed that many FIFA members have illegal bank accounts in the Alpine country. This includes the South American confederation head Nicolas Leoz who may have as many as a dozen accounts.

The Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger reported earlier this week that several accounts may have been frozen accounting for between $50 and $100 million. The News Minute has not been able to independently confirm this information.

These fast-paced developments come at a time when FIFA’s ethics committee conducts hearings to determine the scale and scope of a bribery scandal that has shaken the organization at its very core. Four judges who make up the ethics committee are expected to make a ruling next week.

It may be recalled that the bottom fell out of FIFA’s 'no-wrongdoing' stand last May when, at the behest of US authorities, a luxury hotel in Zurich was raided, leading to the arrest of seven FIFA executives. The images of that arrest were startling – it showed the executives being led into police cars from a backdoor exit hidden behind the hotel’s bed sheets which served as a temporary curtain.

Two months later in May 2014, the US indicted 14 current and former FIFA officials and associates on charges or “rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted” corruption following a major enquiry by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). A few ago 16 more officials were charged following the arrest of two FIFA vice-presidents at the same luxury hotel Bauer au Lac in Zurich. This time Swiss media showed hotel guards and a concierge closing the gates to prevent the officials from fleeing. Ricardo Teixeira, former chief of the Brazil football federation is among those accused of being “being involved in criminal schemes involving well over $200 million in bribes and kickbacks”.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter who is slated to leave the organization in February 2016 has pleaded his innocence. The ethical investigation was launched following the decision by the Swiss Attorney General to commence criminal proceedings against Mr. Blatter over a $2 million payment to European soccer chief Michel Platini in 2011. Both men deny any wrong doing, but the damage to the reputation of the organization, and more specifically to Platini himself being investigated, has left soccer fans shocked. FIFA’s world cup is the most-watched sporting event internationally, well ahead of viewership of the Olympics.

Swiss media has been quick to point out the irony of Blatter being investigated by the very committee he set up in 2012. In September Blatter became a subject of a Swiss criminal investigation which was launched in parallel with the US enquiry. “The plaintiffs have accused me of giving Platini money not for a job already done, but rather to get something done. But what? That had nothing to do with the FIFA presidential election in 2011,” Blatter told the conservative Swiss news magazine Die Weltwoche in it0s December 17th edition.

The jury on that is out and is unlikely to come in anytime soon. FIFA and its sister organisations around the world oversee flow of funds amounting to billions of dollars in everything ranging from televisions right to advertising as well as the very critical decision of where the next world cup must be held. (Read more here)

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