The United States has formally asked Switzerland to extradite seven FIFA officials arrested at the end of May in a corruption inquiry.
It is the first stage in what looks set to be a long procedure – up to six months according to Swiss authorities – as those being held had previously indicated that they would oppose extradition.
The Swiss Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) said in a news release that the US embassy in Bern submitted the formal requests on Wednesday, in line with a bilateral extradition treaty.
The demand was expected: US authorities had until July 3 to submit a formal request or ask for an extension.
The officials have 14 days to respond. The FOJ says it will rule on extradition within a few weeks after the detainees have been interviewed by the Zurich Cantonal Police – a decision which may then be subject to appeal.
The seven are among 14 people – senior FIFA officials plus figures from other governing bodies connected to the organisation – who were charged by New York judicial authorities with offences including racketeering and bribery following an investigation by the FBI.
The seven being held in Swiss jails and the subject of extradition requests include Jeffrey Webb – who was suspended as president of FIFA’s Americas confederation CONCACAF in the wake of the arrests.
The others are Eugenio Figueredo of Uruquay, Eduardo Li from Costa Rica, Brazilian Jose Maria Marin, Venezuelan Rafael Esquivel, Julio Rocha from Nicaragua, and British-born businessman Costas Takkas.
Another former CONCACAF president and FIFA vice-president, Jack Warner, handed himself into police in his native Trinidad and Tobago after a warrant was issued for his arrest, and was bailed pending extradition to the US.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch described the alleged corruption within FIFA as “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted”. Those charged are accused of being part of “a 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer”.
It was later alleged that ten million dollars paid by the South African Football Association ended up in accounts controlled by Warner – the suggestion being that the money was a bribe in exchange for support for South Africa’s hosting of the 2010 World Cup.
As the world’s spotlight shone on FIFA’s activities in the wake of the arrests in Zurich on May 27, the long-standing president of world football’s governing body Sepp Blatter finally announced he would step down, days after being re-elected.
Blatter has not been arrested or charged, although US and Swiss authorities have not ruled out wanting to interview him.
The outgoing FIFA president – due to hand over the reins at an extraordinary congress next winter – has said he will not travel to the Women’s World Cup Final in Canada on Sunday.
In an interview with German magazine Bunte and reported in The Guardian, Blatter strongly denies being corrupt and insists he has a clean conscience.
Swiss authorities are also pursuing criminal inquiries into FIFA’s awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively.