FIFA hires crisis consultants as first official extradited to US
ZURICH/MIAMI: Swiss authorities extradited to the United States the first of seven current and former FIFA officials arrested in a corruption investigation while world soccer's governing body hired a New York-based crisis communications firm to help handle multinational probes and try to restore its tarnished image.
Swiss authorities did not name the extradited official, but the news came six days after a source told Reuters that Jeffrey Webb - one of seven current and former FIFA executives arrested in Switzerland in May - had agreed not to fight his extradition.
Webb and the others have been swept up in a US-led probe into allegations of bribery, fraud and money laundering, including possible corruption in the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar, respectively.
The allegations have roiled the world's most popular sport, prompting FIFA President Sepp Blatter to say he plans to step down and raising uncomfortable questions for the body's corporate sponsors.
The hiring of Teneo, a crisis communications and advisory firm "to work across operational and reputational priorities" as a FIFA spokeswoman explained it, represents the organisation's latest attempt to contain the fallout from the scandal.
Teneo's executives include a number of people who have worked on World Cup bids, among them its president, Doug Band, who was a director of a U.S. campaign to host the tournament in 2022. The US bid lost out to Qatar in a vote of FIFA executive committee members that is now one subject of the US and Swiss investigations.
In another sign of how FIFA is grappling with pressure to improve transparency, its ethics committee, responsible for investigating the corruption allegations, called on Thursday for a change in the rules the to let it release more information about ongoing investigations.
A Swiss justice official said the first of the seven officials arrested had been extradited to the United States on Wednesday. Webb and the others were jailed after a dawn raid on a luxury hotel in Zurich just two days before a FIFA Congress in May where Blatter was re-elected for a fifth term.
"He was handed over to a three-man U.S. police escort in Zurich who accompanied him on the flight to New York," the official said.
Webb, a citizen of the Cayman Islands, is charged with racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering. He has been provisionally banned from his posts at FIFA and CONCACAF, the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football.
Neither his lawyer nor a US Justice Department spokeswoman responded to requests for comment on Thursday.
A federal indictment unsealed by US prosecutors in Brooklyn charged soccer officials and marketing executives with exploiting the sport for their own gain through bribes of $150 million over 24 years.
The U.S. indictment describes Webb as using his influential positions to solicit bribes from sports marketing companies in exchange for the commercial rights to soccer matches.
Amid an international uproar, Blatter announced days after the arrests that he would lay down his mandate at an extraordinary FIFA Congress which will take place between December and February, and would not stand again.