New Zealand Football executives have labelled the corruption controversy embroiling world soccer’s governing body FIFA as “serious” and said they were “monitoring the situation” ahead of the under-20 World Cup.
The tournament begins in New Zealand on Saturday with 24 teams playing 52 games over three weeks. FIFA was thrown into turmoil in Switzerland on Wednesday when local police arrested seven senior officials at the request of United States authorities for alleged corruption involving more than $150 million in bribes over 24 years.
The controversy has tainted the world governing body’s Congress, which will hold a presidential election on Friday. New Zealand Football (NZF) chief executive Andy Martin, who is in Zurich for the FIFA Congress, was keen to distance the tournament from what was happening in Switzerland.
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“The developments in the last 24 hours are very serious and we continue to monitor the situation closely so that we can react appropriately,” Martin said in a NZF statement. “Our delegation in Zurich are in close contact with our Executive Committee and Oceania Football and we will continue to play our role in upholding the integrity of FIFA and its operations.
“New Zealand Football, together with our Local Organising Committee, remain focused on delivering a great FIFA U-20 World Cup, starting on Saturday. We do not anticipate that these events will impact on the tournament,” he added.
The hosts face Ukraine in the first game of the tournament at North Harbour Stadium on Saturday (0100 GMT).
Costa Rica open investigations
Costa Rica has opened investigations into the president of the country’s soccer federation who was among seven FIFA executives arrested in Switzerland on Wednesday on corruption charges brought by prosecutors in the United States.
The news caused concern in the Central American country, where federation chief Eduardo Li was named 2014 person of the year by newspaper La Nacion for his role in the national team’s unexpected run to the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Brazil.
Nine FIFA officials and five corporate executives were indicted on corruption, bribery and money laundering charges, the US Department of Justice said. Seven people, including Li, were arrested at a Zurich hotel two days before the FIFA Congress.
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“The investigation opened today aims to determine whether the hypothesis of the US Department of Justice probe related to a case of money laundering and corruption involving Eduardo Li…can be corroborated,” Costa Rica’s public prosecutor’s office said. It said the office was in contact with US law enforcement.
Later on Wednesday, Costa Rica’s tax office said it had opened an investigation into Li’s various business interests in the country. According to reports in local media, Li controls at least 10 companies in the country. “We’re not just going to sit around waiting,” Juan Carlos Gomez, the deputy director general of the national tax office, told reporters. “We’re going to investigate fraud, money movements, whatever.
In an interview with newspaper La Nacion published late last year, Li said he received no salary as the head of the country’s soccer association, saying that he mainly lived off the money generated by his various businesses, without giving more detail. “Many people don’t understand the sacrifices involved in this,” he was quoted as saying.
Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis told reporters he was surprised by the news of the 56-year-old Li’s arrest. “I hope the name of Costa Rica is not affected,” he said.