MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) — The FBI executed a search warrant regarding the ongoing FIFA scandal in Miami on Thursday.
FBI agents raided the offices of Spanish media company ImaginaUS, located at 7291 NW 74th Street.
It’s been alleged that ImaginaUs was one of several companies that agreed to pay bribes in connection to world soccer governing body FIFA.
In addition, two FIFA vice presidents were arrested Thursday on suspicion of bribery as the U.S. Department of Justice struck again at the heart of soccer’s scandal-hit governing body.
Swiss federal police led away Juan Angel Napout of Paraguay and Alfredo Hawit of Honduras in a pre-dawn raid at the luxury Baur au Lac hotel in downtown Zurich, the same place where arrests on May 27 sparked the FIFA corruption crisis.
Their arrests marred a day FIFA hoped would be a milestone in rebuilding its image as the widely discredited executive committee — minus its two most senior Latin American officials — agreed to reforms designed to protect it from corrupt officials.
More South American soccer officials were expected to be named later Thursday by the DOJ in a second wave of charges following an indictment in May which alleged a racketeering conspiracy among FIFA officials.
Napout and Hawit have opposed their extradition to the United States at Zurich police hearings, Switzerland’s justice ministry said in a statement.
“According to the U.S. arrest requests, they are suspected of accepting bribes of millions of dollars,” the justice ministry said. “Some of the offences were agreed and prepared in the USA. Payments were also processed via U.S. banks.”
The bribes are linked to marketing rights for the Copa America — including the 2016 edition hosted in the U.S. — and World Cup qualifying matches.
Napout is president of the South American confederation CONMEBOL and Hawit leads the North American regional body known as CONCACAF.
They are the third past or current presidents of each continental body to be indicted by the DOJ in a case that has shattered the reputations of soccer leaders in the Americas.
“CONCACAF continues to cooperate with all government authorities in their investigations to the fullest extent,” the Miami-based governing body said in a statement.
Once again, FIFA was rocked ahead of a key meeting of its international leaders, who were set to approve adding eight teams to make a 40-nation World Cup lineup.
The arrests were made ahead of a FIFA executive committee meeting that deferred the decision on expansion starting with the 2026 World Cup. The U.S. is a likely favorite when bidding to host that tournament starts next year.
The meeting did support some reforms in a process that responds to the dual American and Swiss federal investigations of corruption implicating FIFA leaders and which forced President Sepp Blatter to announce his resignation plans in June.
“Events underscore the necessity to establish a complete program of reforms for FIFA today,” said interim FIFA President Issa Hayatou, who stepped in when Blatter was suspended from duty in October in a separate case of financial wrongdoing.
Modernizing changes include taking many decision-making powers from the executive panel, to be renamed the FIFA Council with more men and women members. Future presidents and council members will be limited to 12 years in office and face stricter integrity checks. FIFA’s 209 member federations must vote on the changes on Feb. 26.
Fernando Sarney, a FIFA executive committee member from Brazil, said the early morning arrests tainted the meeting.
“It was like someone had died, that was the atmosphere inside,” Sarney told reporters. “Everybody was surprised, the feeling was like it’s happening again, that it’s something we think is personal.”
Past Brazilian delegates at FIFA were likely targets of the DOJ on Thursday after being linked to bribery in the May indictment.
On May 27, the U.S. Department of Justice named two more FIFA vice presidents — Napout and Hawit’s predecessors, Eugenio Figueredo and Jeffrey Webb, respectively — among 14 soccer and marketing officials indicted.
They were linked to bribes worth tens of millions of dollars for the Copa America continental championship and other regional events in South and Central America. Four other men made guilty pleas.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch was due to brief media in Washington later Thursday.
The arrests Thursday follow increased activity in the FIFA bribery case in recent weeks, with South American soccer leaders targeted.
The indictment published in May said most presidents of the 10 South American federations would receive $1.5 million in bribes from marketing company Datisa from each of four editions of the Copa America being played from 2015 through 2023.
The last six months have been the most turbulent period of Blatter’s 17-year reign as FIFA president and have impacted on the governing body’s billion-dollar annual business.
Asked about reports of a $100 million loss in 2015, acting secretary general Markus Kattner declined to say how much of FIFA’s $1.5 billion reserves have been spent on legal bills and making up a shortfall from a failure to sign new World Cup sponsors.
“It is clear it’s not an easy year,” Kattner said at a news conference. “We had unforeseen additional costs, and also on the revenue side some challenges to cope with.”
Blatter was re-elected as FIFA president on May 29, two days after a raid in Zurich by Swiss police resulted in seven officials being arrested and criminal proceedings being opened regarding “systematic and deep-rooted” corruption in soccer.
As a result of the Swiss investigation, Blatter and UEFA President Michel Platini are currently serving 90-day suspensions amid FIFA ethics investigations involving $2 million of FIFA money Blatter approved for Platini in 2011 as backdated salary.
Both face lifetime bans at ethics hearings expected this month.
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