By Angelos Anastasiou
Cypriot FIFA executive Marios Lefkaritis is en route to Zurich, Switzerland, where he expects to be called in for questioning over the selection of Russia and Qatar to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cup football tournaments, the Cyprus News Agency reported on Thursday.
According to Lefkaritis, who is also a UEFA VP, he has not been called for a statement by the Swiss authorities as of yet, but he fully expects to be asked to give a statement on arrival in connection with the second investigation.
He explained that of FIFA’s 22-man Executive Committee, the panel that voted for Russia and Qatar in 2010, 12 are still on the ExCo, including himself.
Of these 12, two live in Switzerland and can be questioned by the authorities at any time.
“The 10 of us who live abroad will be asked to answer various questions,” Lefkaritis said.
The ongoing corruption probe is not a new development, he told the CNA, as investigations have been conducted for the past two years by a FIFA-appointed committee.
However, he added, the Swiss authorities’ investigation is separate to that of the FBI.
“In this case, it is the Swiss federal authorities that want to ask questions, and I’m not sure what kind of questions they may pose,” he said.
With regard to the charges against FIFA officials, Lefkaritis said they relate to “bribery, supplies, etc”.
“All I can say is that it is an extremely sad situation, because unfortunately the only one paying the price for the actions of some people is football itself,” he said.
He added that the cases under investigation by the FBI date as far back as 1990.
“And we don’t even know what might have gone on before that,” he said.
UEFA’s entire ExCo, according to the VP, was in Warsaw, Poland, on Wednesday, to attend the Europa League final, and was scheduled to travel to Zurich on Thursday for FIFA’s annual convention.
On Wednesday, Swiss police raided a luxury hotel in Zurich and arrested seven high-ranking FIFA officials, who were among 14 individuals –nine FIFA officials and five corporate executives — later charged with 47 offences, including conspiracy, money-laundering, tax evasion, bribery, and obstruction of justice.
The raid was the result of an extradition request by US authorities after an investigation by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation appears to have uncovered an illegal network that forced anyone interested in securing the rights to international football tournaments to pay kickbacks up to 25 per cent.
Charges brought against the suspects included bribes for advertising rights to football tournaments, the 2011 election for FIFA president, and the selection of South Africa as host country for the 2010 World Cup.
Among those arrested was British national of Cypriot descent Costas Takkas, attache to CONCACAF – the American continent’s football confederation – president Jeffrey Webb (also arrested), and former general secretary of the Cayman Islands’ Football Association.
A second criminal investigation has been launched by Swiss authorities, looking into the decisions to allocate the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar, respectively.
On his official FIFA bio page, Lefkaritis listed “recent allegations for corruption” as his response to what has been his biggest disappointment in football.
This is understood to be a reference to a 2013 investigation by the Sunday Times, which alleged that Lefkaritis’ family sold a strip of land in Cyprus for €32 million to the Qatar Investment Authority – the “sovereign wealth fund of the State of Qatar” – a year after he had voted for Qatar to be the country hosting the 2022 World Cup, implying the transaction may have influenced his vote.
The implication was later flatly denied by Lefkaritis.