Swiss authorities investigating World Cup votes following arrests of 7 FIFA officials in US corruption case

Swiss federal prosecutors opened criminal proceedings related to the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups Wednesday, throwing FIFA deeper into crisis only hours after seven soccer officials were arrested and 14 indicted in a separate U.S. corruption probe.

The officials were arrested and detained by Swiss police pending extradition at the request of U.S. authorities after a raid at a luxury hotel in Zurich.

The U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement that two current FIFA vice presidents were among those arrested: Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands and Eugenio Figueredo of Uruguay. The others are Eduardo Li of Costa Rica, Julio Rocha of Nicaragua, Costas Takkas of Britain, Rafael Esquivel of Venezuela and Jose Maria Marin of Brazil.

All seven are connected with the regional confederations of North and South America and face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of racketeering.

"The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States," U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement. "It spans at least two generations of soccer officials who, as alleged, have abused their positions of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks."

FIFA announced Wednesday it provisionally banned 11 people from all soccer-related activities over the case.

Nine of the 14 that were indicted by the Justice Department are soccer officials, while four are sports marketing executives and another works in broadcasting. Jack Warner, a former FIFA vice president from Trinidad and Tobago, was among those indicted.

A 47-count indictment unsealed by Swiss federal prosecutors early Wednesday charged the 14 with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy.

A Justice Department statement accused the defendants of "conspiring to solicit and receive well over $150 million in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for their official support of the sports marketing executives who agreed to make the unlawful payments."

The Swiss prosecutors' office said the U.S. probe was separate from its World Cup investigation but that authorities were working together.

However, FIFA Wednesday ruled out a revote of the World Cups won by Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022.

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, who is also a FIFA executive committee member, told The Associated Press "we've got nothing to hide."

"We're prepared to show everything," Mutko said in a telephone interview. "We've always acted within the law."

Qatari soccer officials declined to comment.

FIFA said Friday's presidential election also would go ahead as planned with Sepp Blatter going for a fifth term. Blatter was not named in either investigation.

Blatter's only opponent in the election, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, said it was "a sad day for football," but declined to comment further.

The European soccer body UEFA has called for FIFA to postpone its presidential vote and says it may boycott this week's annual FIFA Congress.

UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino said Wednesday the investigations into FIFA "tarnish the image of football as a whole." He said European football associations will debate Thursday whether to boycott the Zurich congress.

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 investigation against "persons unknown on suspicion of criminal mismanagement and of money laundering" again throws into the doubt the integrity of the voting.

The arrests were made at the lakeside Baur au Lac Hotel in downtown Zurich, long favored as a place for senior FIFA officials to stay. It was the stage for intense lobbying for votes ahead of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting decisions in December 2010.

"FIFA is fully cooperating with the investigation and is supporting the collection of evidence in this regard," FIFA said in a statement.

The U.S. case involves bribes "totaling more than $100 million" linked to commercial deals dating back to the 1990s for soccer tournaments in the United States and Latin America, the Swiss Federal Office of Justice said. The Justice Department said the corruption is linked to World Cup qualifying matches and the Copa America — South America's continental championship.

Lynch said two generations of soccer officials, including the then-presidents of CONCACAF, which oversees all aspects of international soccer in North America, the Caribbean, and Central America, and CONMEBOL, which represents organized soccer in South America, took bribes “over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament. “

“For instance, in 2016, the United States is scheduled to host the centennial edition of the Copa America -- the first time that tournament will be held in cities outside South America,” Lynch told reporters Wednesday. “Our investigation revealed that what should be an expression of international sportsmanship was used as a vehicle in a broader scheme to line executives' pockets with bribes totaling $110 million - nearly a third of the legitimate costs of the rights to the tournaments involved.”

Lynch added that the criminal activity went beyond sports marketing.

“Around 2004, bidding began for the opportunity to host the 2010 World Cup, which was ultimately awarded to South Africa -- the first time the tournament would be held on the African continent,” she said. “But even for this historic event, FIFA executives and others corrupted the process by using bribes to influence the hosting decision.

“In short, these individuals and organizations engaged in bribery to decide who would televise games; where the games would be held; and who would run the organization overseeing organized soccer worldwide.”

The current president of CONCACAF, Webb, was among those arrested. Webb was seen by some as a possible successor to Blatter.

"Today's announcement should send a message that enough is enough," said Acting U.S. Attorney Kelly Currie in a statement. "After decades of what the indictment alleges to be brazen corruption, organized international soccer needs a new start -- a new chance for its governing institutions to provide honest oversight and support of a sport that is beloved across the world, increasingly so here in the United States. Let me be clear: this indictment is not the final chapter in our investigation."

The Justice Department also said Wednesday that authorities also were executing a search warrant at CONCACAF headquarters in Miami.

The Swiss Federal Office of Justice said U.S. authorities suspect the alleged bribes were agreed to and prepared in the U.S., and payments carried out via U.S. banks.

"We’re struck by just how long this went on for and how it touched nearly every part of what FIFA did," The New York Times quoted a U.S. law enforcement official as saying. "It just seemed to permeate every element of the federation and was just their way of doing business. It seems like this corruption was institutionalized."

CONCACAF reported itself to U.S. tax authorities in 2012. Then based in New York, the organization had not paid taxes over several years when Jack Warner, of Trinidad and Tobago, was its president and Chuck Blazer of the U.S. was its secretary general.

Warner, who is one of the nine soccer officials named in the indictment, left FIFA and CONCACAF in 2011 to avoid sanctions in a bribery case. Blazer left in 2013 and cooperated with the FBI's investigation. The Justice Department statement said Blazer had pleaded guilty in November of that year to charges of racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, and income tax evasion.

FIFA has been dogged by accusations of corruption in recent years, most of it related to the bidding to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Host rights for those tournaments were awarded in December 2010 to Russia and Qatar, countries which have been heavily criticized for their human rights record. Qatar's use of migrant labor to build the stadiums and other infrastructure to host the tournament has come under particular attack from advocacy groups.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.