By Graham Dunbar
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
GENEVA _ One of the seven FIFA officials arrested in Zurich as part of a corruption probe has been extradited to the United States, the Swiss Justice Ministry said Thursday.
The Federal Office of Justice said the man, whom it did not identify, was extradited on Wednesday after 50 days of detention in Switzerland.
“He was handed over to a three-man U.S. police escort in Zurich who accompanied him on the flight to New York,” the ministry said in a statement.
The official agreed last week to be extradited, unlike six others who are fighting extradition.
The extradition hearings are being held by Zurich cantonal (state) police in a process expected to finish by early September, Swiss justice office spokesman Raphael Frei told the Associated Press on Thursday. Appeals to Switzerland’s federal criminal court and supreme court can extend the cases by several months.
The extradited man is accused of “accepting bribes totalling millions of dollars in connection with the sale of marketing rights to various sports marketing firms and keeping the money for himself,” the justice office said last week.
All seven men were arrested on May 27 in dawn raids on a luxury hotel in Zurich by Swiss federal police at the request of American federal agencies.
They include FIFA vice-president Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands and former FIFA vice-president Eugenio Figueredo of Uruguay. Both have been suspended from football duty by FIFA’s ethics committee.
The others are: Jose Maria Marin, who led Brazil’s 2014 World Cup organizing committee; Eduardo Li, an elected member of FIFA’s executive committee and president of Costa Rica’s football federation; FIFA staffer Julio Rocha, a development officer from Nicaragua; Venezuela federation president Rafael Esquivel; and Costas Takkas, a Briton who works for CONCACAF President Webb.
A total of 14 men _ nine football officials and five marketing executives _ were indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice in May, including disgraced former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner, who is resisting extradition from Trinidad and Tobago.
A further four, including American former FIFA executive member Chuck Blazer and two sons of Warner, had their guilty pleas unsealed in May.
They are alleged to have taken part in a racketeering conspiracy paying bribes of more than $150 million over a 24-year period. The payments were tied to the award of broadcast and hosting rights for the World Cup, continental championships in North and South America, and regional club tournaments.
Webb and Figueredo were named in the indictment among several men who have already shared in bribe payments of at least $40 million linked to broadcast rights for four editions of the Copa America tournament.
Blazer admitted sharing in a $10 million bribe scheme with Warner and a third FIFA voter to support South Africa’s successful bid for the 2010 World Cup. South African officials asked FIFA to transfer the money through the governing body’s accounts.
U.S. authorities have said more indictments should follow, and FIFA President Sepp Blatter is a target of the widening case.
Under pressure from the investigation, and a separate Swiss federal probe of money laundering linked to FIFA’s award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, Blatter announced on June 2 that he would leave office within months.
Blatter, who denies wrongdoing and must consent to be extradited from his native Switzerland, has refused to attend FIFA business in countries which have extradition treaties with the U.S.
On Monday, he will chair an executive committee meeting in Zurich which should decide on an election date for FIFA’s 209 member federations to replace him as president.
Blatter is expected to travel to Russia next week to oversee the 2018 World Cup qualifying draw on July 25 in St. Petersburg.