Swiss prosecutors said Wednesday that they had opened criminal proceedings related to the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 soccer World Cups to Russia and Qatar, respectively.
The announcement was made hours after seven soccer officials were arrested and 14 were indicted by U.S. federal prosecutors on racketeering and money laundering charges ahead of the annual meeting of international soccer's governing body, FIFA. Swiss prosecutors said the American probe was separate from its own investigation, but said the two countries were working together.
At a press conference in Zurich Wednesday morning, a FIFA spokesman ruled out the possibility that the hosting rights for either tournament would be put to a new vote.
The Swiss prosecutors' office said in a statement they seized "electronic data and documents" at FIFA's headquarters on Wednesday as part of their probe. And Swiss police said they will question 10 FIFA executive committee members who took part in the World Cup votes in December 2010.
The Swiss authorities said their investigation against "persons unknown on suspicion of criminal mismanagement and of money laundering" again throws into the doubt the integrity of the voting.
The bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments had been dogged by controversy and suspicion about alleged vote-buying and other wrongdoing almost from the moment the winning bids were announced. Russia unexpectedly beat out fellow European bidders England, as well as joint hosting offers from Portugal and Spain and Belgium and the Netherlands.
But Qatar proved to be the truly controversial choice, winning the nod from FIFA over seemingly stronger bids by the United States, Australia, South Korea, and Japan. Since December 2010, FIFA has announced the that tournament, normally played in June and July, will take place in November and December during the middle of the season for many domestic soccer leagues.
Human rights groups have also criticized Qatar for putting low-paid migrant workers in dangerous conditions to construct the stadiums and other infrastructure necessary to host the tournament. One estimation calculates that 4,000 migrant workers will have died before the construction is completed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.