The US has charged nine FIFA officials and five business executives with corruption and conspiracy, after seven of them were arrested in a Swiss raid. The authorities suspect corruption in the 2010 World Cup bid.
The officials and businessmen face accusations of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering in a scheme that lasted 24 years, according to the US Department of Justice.
"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," US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said.
The total value of the enterprise was $151 million (138 million euros), according to the authorities, with some of the deals concerning the vote awarding the 2010 World Cup to South Africa.
The defendants include two current FIFA vice presidents, Jeffrey Webb and Eugenio Figueredo, authorities say, as well as former Vice President Jack Warner, who also served as a head of CONCACAF association, in charge football associations in North America, Central America, and the Caribbean.
"I want to be very clear: This is the beginning of our effort, not the end," acting US Attorney in the Eastern District of New York Kelly Currie said at Wednesday's press conference.
Warner sleeping 'soundly'
On Wednesday, Swiss police arrested seven of the nine suspects in luxurious Zurich hotel.
Jack Warner's son Daryll, who is a former FIFA development official, has already pleaded guilty, US officials say. Alongside him, three other individuals and two companies acknowledged their responsibility.
At the same time, Jack Warner remains at large and has claimed his innocence in a statement Wednesday. Speaking from his native Trinidad and Tobago, Werner told Trinidad TV6 channel that US authorities "know where to find me."
"I sleep very soundly in the night," he added.
Warner is a member of parliament in his country, but his term is due to expire on June 17. He could be extradited to the US under a bilateral treaty.
Parallel to unsealing of the indictments, authorities raided the Miami headquarters of the CONCACAF association, which Warner used to lead.
Qatar and Russia to hold World Cups
Also on Wednesday, The Office of Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) announced that it has begun a separate criminal probe looking into possible mismanagement and money laundering related to the distribution of the 2018 and 2022 FIFA Soccer World Cups, which are to be held in Russia and Qatar, respectively.
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko commented on the news by saying "we've got nothing to hide" to the AP news agency.
Speaking by telephone from Zurich, Mutko said "we're prepared to show everything" to investigators.
FIFA has already announced there will be no renewed venue vote on the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
"Russia and Qatar will be played," FIFA spokesman Walter de Gregorio told reporters in Zurich.
Blatter versus Jordan prince
Top football officials from all over the world are gathered in Switzerland for the vote on FIFA's head, where incumbent President Sepp Blatter - in office since 1998 - is considered a near-certainty to win another four-year term. However, he faces high-profile opposition from wealthy, influential European football associations, like Germany's DFB.
Current CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb, now in custody, was seen as a potential Blatter successor, in time
Although Blatter himself is not among the indicted, news of the arrests of high-ranking officials have rocked the organization, which has long struggled with rumors of corruption.
European football's governing body UEFA has called for elections set for Friday be postponed.
Following a rift between UEFA head Platini and Blatter, the UEFA leadership is supporting Jordanian prince Ali bin al-Hussein, who aims to end Blatter's 17-year reign. Although Blatter's re-election was broadly considered a formality prior to Wednesday's developments, he was still facing a tougher challenge than usual, having ran unopposed for re-election last time around.
dj/msh (AP, dpa, AFP, Reuters)