ZURICH (AP) — Four years after stepping down in disgrace, former FIFA vice president Jack Warner was banned from soccer for life on Tuesday, accused of repeated acts of bribery related to World Cup bidding votes.
Warner, a long-time ally of President Sepp Blatter who was allowed to resign from FIFA in 2011 with his "presumption of innocence" maintained, is currently fighting extradition from Trinidad and Tobago on U.S. charges of racketeering, wire fraud and money-laundering.
The decision by the FIFA ethics committee on Tuesday shows that judge Hans-Joachim Eckert will pursue officials long after they have left their jobs.
A more pressing case for the ethics body is an investigation into Blatter, who was interrogated by Swiss prosecutors on Friday in part over allegations he undervalued the awarding of World Cup television rights to Warner. Blatter, who denies wrongdoing, is at risk of being suspended by his own organization.
Warner's lifetime FIFA ban stems from Eckert's report on the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
"I do not believe however that this will serve as the distraction to the FIFA's present problems as the FIFA wishes it to be," Warner said. "Given what is happening in Zurich with Sepp Blatter I guess that there is no such thing as a coincidence."
As leader of the CONCACAF region from 1990-2011, Warner gained considerable influence in World Cup votes by the FIFA executive committee and now the extent of his wrongdoing has been reinforced by Eckert.
"Mr. Warner was found to have committed many and various acts of misconduct continuously and repeatedly during his time as an official in different high-ranking and influential positions at FIFA and CONCACAF," the FIFA statement said.
"In his positions as a football official, he was a key player in schemes involving the offer, acceptance, and receipt of undisclosed and illegal payments, as well as other money-making schemes."
The case highlights how the specter of corruption has hung over FIFA under Blatter's 17-year presidency.
Former FIFA vice president Chung Mong-joon, who hopes to succeed Blatter in February's election, said Tuesday the leadership crisis is so severe that an emergency task force should be set up to run the game.
With Blatter under criminal investigation and general secretary Jerome Valcke suspended from work and being investigated by the ethics committee, Chung said FIFA is in "total meltdown."
"Under such circumstances, FIFA and regional confederations should consider convening extraordinary sessions of their respective executive committee(s) as well as congress to set-up an emergency task force that will enable FIFA secretariat to function without interruption," Chung, a former vice president under Blatter, said in a statement from South Korea.
Among Chung's potential rivals in the election is UEFA President Michel Platini, who has been questioned as a witness over a payment from FIFA — one of the reasons Blatter was interrogated on Friday by Swiss authorities. Blatter and Platini denied wrongdoing as they await news from the ethics committee, which is looking into the case.
Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber said Tuesday that Platini is being treated as "between a witness and an accused person."
Lauber said he would raid Platini's office if necessary to "clear up what's the real truth."
The payment under investigation is the 2 million Swiss francs (about $2 million) received by Platini in 2011 for work supposedly carried out in his job as a FIFA adviser between 1998 and 2002. FIFA's accounts for 1999-2002 show a revenue surplus of 115 million Swiss francs (about $83 million in 2002).
"Mr. Blatter informed me when I started my role as his adviser that it was not initially possible to pay the totality of my salary because of FIFA's financial situation at that time," Platini said in comments provided by UEFA.
With less than a month to go until he must pass integrity checks to stand in the FIFA presidential election in February, Platini insisted that he doesn't "fear a (FIFA) suspension because I have done nothing wrong,"
FIFA is expected to hold an election on Feb. 26 to replace Blatter, who delivered his sudden resignation statement in June, four days after being re-elected for a fifth term.
The FIFA bribery scandal erupted in May when the United States indicted 14 officials, including seven who were arrested at a Zurich hotel two days before the presidential election.
Only one of the seven men — ousted FIFA vice president Jeffrey Webb — has been extradited to the U.S.
A week after the American request to extradite Venezuelan official Rafael Esquivel was granted, the Swiss justice ministry agreed Tuesday to also send former Costa Rican soccer federation president Eduardo Li.
Li, accused of taking bribes in connection with the sale of marketing rights for World Cup qualifiers, was ousted from the FIFA executive committee two days before he could take his seat.
Extradition orders can be challenged at Switzerland's federal criminal court within 30 days.
Speaking after a lecture at Zurich University, Lauber described the ongoing FIFA case being run from the attorney general's office as a "big investigation."
"This is not a 90-minute game," Lauber said. "It's like more or less not even at the half (time) break."
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports