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FIFA officials arrested on corruption charges

At least nine top-ranking officials from soccer's governing body have been indicted in the US, with several taken into police custody in Switzerland. They are suspected of having accepted bribes over a 20-year period.

At least seven high-ranking FIFA officials were arrested at a luxury hotel early Wednesday by the authorities in Zurich, Switzerland, and will be extradited to the United States on suspicion of racketeering, money laundering and wire fraud. Two more were indicted in the US-led probe.

According to a New York Times report, the corruption allegations span at least two decades of misconduct. At least nine officials were apprehended during the Swiss operation. The paper wrote they all came from FIFA's powerful executive committee, and that the arrests were quiet and without incident.

The report quoted local law enforcement as saying that the charges include accepting bribes for things like Football World Cup bids and broadcasting deals.

Eduardo Li, president of the Costa Rican soccer federation, was among those detained, The New York Times said, along with FIFA Vice Presidents Jeffrey Webb and Eugenio Figueredo. The newspaper added that several FIFA officials who were not in Zurich were also set to be indicted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York.

The Swiss Federal Office of Justice gave a statement which said the US authorities believe that the crimes were agreed upon and prepared on US soil, and that payments were made using American banks.

"The bribery suspects - representatives of sports media and sports promotion firms - are alleged to have been involved in schemes to make payments to the football functionaries (FIFA delegates) and other functionaries of FIFA sub-organizations - totaling more than $100 million," the Swiss statement said. "In return, it is believed that they received media, marketing, and sponsorship rights in connection with soccer tournaments in Latin America."

The officials are in Zurich for a FIFA conference which will decide if Sepp Blatter will continue his 17-year reign as the head of the international soccer organization or if his challenger Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan, currently vice president of FIFA, will take over.

"Today is a sad day for soccer," the prince said in a statement.

es/jil (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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