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 By PA Sport

Swiss authorities arrest Hawit, Napout in FIFA corruption case in Zurich

FIFA vice presidents Alfredo Hawit and Juan Angel Napout have been arrested in another pre-dawn raid of the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich on suspicion "of accepting bribes of millions of dollars," the Swiss Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) has announced.

The luxury establishment used by FIFA officials was swooped upon for the second time this year, with interim CONCACAF president Hawit of Honduras and CONMEBOL chief Napout of Paraguay detained on orders issued by the FOJ on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice.

The FOJ confirmed in a further statement on Thursday that the pair are both opposing extradition to the U.S.

Suspended FIFA president Sepp Blatter has not been arrested as part of this latest raid.

A statement from the FOJ said: "On the instructions of the Federal Office of Justice (FOJ), a further two FIFA officials were arrested in Zurich today. They are being held in custody pending their extradition. According to the US arrest requests, they are suspected of accepting bribes of millions of dollars.

"The high-ranking FIFA officials are alleged to have taken the money in return for selling marketing rights in connection with football tournaments in Latin America, as well as World Cup qualifying matches."

FIFA has acknowledged the latest controversy, saying in a statement: "FIFA became aware of the actions taken today by the US Department of Justice. FIFA will continue to co-operate fully with the US investigation as permitted by Swiss law, as well as with the investigation being led by the Swiss Office of the Attorney General. FIFA will have no further comment on today's developments." 

FIFA has been rocked by yet more arrests during a meeting of the executive committee.

The governing body's executive committee is currently midway through a two-day meeting. On Thursday they agreed to wide-ranging reforms to help protect FIFA as an institution from corrupt officials.

The executive committee agreed a slate of proposed changes that was shaped by a committee of officials chaired by IOC veteran Francois Carrard, working from a document drafted by FIFA audit panel chairman Domenico Scala.

FIFA's 209 member federations will be asked to approve the changes at the Feb. 26 election congress in Zurich.

Also on Thursday, agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigations raided the Miami offices of Media World, a subsidiary of the Spanish media Company Imagina, sources outside the facility told the Spanish news agency, Efe. 

Sources close to the investigation confirmed that FBI agents entered the premises and removed boxes as well as made copies of information on computers.

Several employees said that the FBI would not allow any employees any access any offices on the third floor of the group's building. Media World is a subsidiary of Imagina US Inc., a production company for the US Hispanic and Latin America that handles rights distribution for sporting events as well as production services.

Sources within the company said Imagina will make a public statement on Thursday, but would not offer more detail regarding the police presence. The FBI raided the Miami Beach offices of CONCACAF as part of a wider FIFA probe.

U.S. Soccer also distanced itself from CONCACAF and CONMEBOL alleged corruption, issuing a statement on Thursday reiterating that it is committed to a transparent process for the 2016 Copa American Centenario to be held in the United States.

The current power vacuum has left CONMEBOL third vice president Wilmar Valdez as next in line to be president.

"CONMEBOL and CONCACAF are both in serious difficulty as there are no viable leaders, and most officials that work within the organizations will be somehow associated to those arrested, so there is perhaps no 'clean' person to turn to,'' said Christopher Gaffney, a scholar at the University of Zurich who studies football and mega-events.

"We knew that the CONMEBOL figures in particular, who come from corrupt and opaque national federations such as [Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay], would not have much incentive to clean up their operations,'' Gaffney said.

CONCACAF is also facing a similar leadership challenge. Hawit was appointed interim president of CONCACAF, the confederation of countries from North and Central America and the Caribbean, after his predecessor Jeffrey Webb was arrested in a similar raid in May. Napout is the president of CONMEBOL, the South American confederation. Both Napout and Hawit rejected extradition on Thursday. 

CONCACAF released a statement on Thursday saying that it "continues to cooperate with all government authorities in their investigations" before adding: "Today's developments only strengthen the confederation's resolve in continuing to enact significant structural and governance changes to the organisation, including substantial amendments to its statutes and fundamentally changing how it conducts business."

The FIFA corruption scandal first broke in May when seven officials, including Webb, were arrested by Swiss authorities on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice, plunging football's world governing body into meltdown.

Authorities in Switzerland and in the U.S. are investigating current and former senior football officials on charges that include racketeering, money laundering and fraud.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.


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