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GENEVA, May 27. /TASS/. The authorities of Switzerland and the United States jointly coordinated the date on the arrest of high-ranking FIFA officials and the launch of criminal proceedings in the bidding campaigns on the selection of hosts for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, Folco Galli, the head of the Swiss Federal Office of Justice’s (FOJ) press service, told TASS on Wednesday.
An unprecedented corruption scandal flared up in FIFA on Wednesday morning as seven of the organization’s high-ranking officials were arrested in Switzerland on bribery, money laundering and corruption charges. The scandal involves two separate criminal proceedings.
Firstly, the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York is conducting a criminal investigation into the awarding of media, marketing and sponsorship rights for soccer tournaments in the United States and Latin America. Secondly, the Swiss Office of the Attorney General is conducting a criminal investigation into the selection of Russia as the host country for the 2018 World Cup and Qatar as the host country for 2022.
"The date of the arrests has been determined between the Swiss and US authorities in order to guarantee an optimal coordination of the two separate proceedings," Galli said in an interview with TASS.
The arrests of the seven FIFA top officials were made by the Swiss police at the request from the US authorities and they are now facing extradition to the United States.
Asked whether the arrested in Switzerland FIFA officials could be released, Galli said that "as a rule, the wanted person remains in detention until the extradition proceedings have been concluded."
"This rule enables Switzerland to fulfil its extradition obligations under international treaties," the spokesman added.
The US Department of Justice said in its statement earlier in the day that a total of 14 people (nine FIFA officials and five corporate executives) were indicted for racketeering conspiracy and corruption.
"A 47-count indictment was unsealed early this morning in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, charging 14 defendants with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies, among other offenses, in connection with the defendants’ participation in a 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer," the statement from the US justice body said.
There is no information as of yet whether anyone was suspected in particular or any arrests were made concerning the criminal investigation handled by the Swiss Office of the Attorney General into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding campaigns.The Swiss Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) announced in its statement earlier in the day that "Further to three US requests for legal assistance, the FOJ has also ordered the blocking of accounts at several banks in Switzerland through which bribes are claimed to have flowed as well as the seizure of related bank documents."
Ingrid Ryser, a spokeswoman for the FOJ, declined to comment, when asked by TASS on the approximate total sum on the seized bank accounts, adding that they would remain blocked as long as it was necessary.
FIFA plunged into the unprecedented corruption scandal on the eve of the organization’s annual congress in Zurich on May 28-29 with current President Sepp Blatter expected to be re-elected on Friday for another four-year term.
Speaking at an emergency news conference in Switzerland on Wednesday afternoon, FIFA’s Director of Communications and Public Affairs Walter De Gregorio described the crisis by saying that "This for FIFA is good."
"Not good in terms of image or reputation. But this is good in terms of cleaning... It hurts, but this is right," he said.
Speaking about the possible impact of the scandal on the next two scheduled global football championships, De Gregorio said: "I can say what the [FIFA] president said earlier - the World Cup in 2018 and 2022 will be played in Russia and in Qatar [respectively."
"Russia and Qatar will be played and I don’t want to go into speculation what will be tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, and so on," FIFA spokesman added.
Russia won the bid to host the 2018 World Cup over four years ago in a tight race against the joint bid from England, Portugal and Spain and the joint bid on behalf of Belgium and the Netherlands.
Russia selected 11 host cities to be the venues for the matches of the 2018 World Cup and they are Moscow, St. Petersburg, Sochi, Kazan, Saransk, Kaliningrad, Volgograd, Rostov-on-Don, Nizhny Novgorod, Yekaterinburg and Samara.
The matches of the 2018 World Cup will be held between June 14 and July 15 at 12 stadiums located in the 11 mentioned above cities across Russia. Two of the stadiums are located in the Russian capital.