[GENEVA] It will probably be a matter of just months before seven senior FIFA officials arrested in Switzerland can be extradited to the United States to face corruption charges, Swiss legal experts said on Friday.
The men, all from the Latin American and Caribbean region, are being held at undisclosed detention centres following their arrest at a Zurich luxury hotel on Wednesday. The move sent shock waves through world soccer's governing body FIFA and its sponsors.
All have contested extradition, but under a bilateral treaty the proceedings are relatively straight-forward, even if defendants have the right to appeal along the way, experts say.
"From the time of arrest to the final enforceable decision, it would easily take two months (for extradition), a few months, if there are not too many complex legal issues. Not years," Peter Cosandey, a Zurich-based lawyer and former provincial district attorney, told Reuters.
In all, US judicial authorities indicted nine high-ranking soccer officials and five sports marketing executives on federal corruption charges, accusing them of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies.
In Switzerland, if a person arrested on a foreign arrest warrant fights extradition, criminal extradition proceedings start. The United States has to make a formal request within 40 days. Then the Swiss Federal Office of Justice must decide whether to issue an extradition order, which can be challenged. A Federal Court will rule in the case of an appeal being lodged.
A Swiss lawyer based in the capital Berne who deals in international cases said: "Extradition usually goes very fast. It is a question of months, even if contested."
On the same day they carried out the arrests under the U.S. extradition request, Swiss authorities opened a separate criminal investigation of their own into the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 event to Qatar.
For now these cases do not appear to involve the same men, so the pending Swiss case would not interfere with their extradition.
Swiss law often provides exemption from extradition for tax crimes, which allowed US commodities billionaire Marc Rich to live a life of luxury in a grand Swiss villa in the 1980s and 1990s while refusing to face what was then the biggest tax evasion case in US history. He was eventually pardoned by President Bill Clinton.
That case helped give Switzerland a reputation as a country where the wealthy and powerful can sometimes escape other countries' justice. But that loophole is unlikely to benefit the FIFA defendants, who face accusations of crimes that would also be punishable under Swiss law.
In other areas, Switzerland has a history of dealing with extraditions efficiently.
Among the most high-profile cases was that of Oscar-winning film director Roman Polanski, arrested as he arrived in Zurich for a film festival in Sept. 2009 at the request of US authorities over a 1977 charge of drugging and having sex with a 13-year-old girl in California.
Mr Polanski was released from prison after posting US$4.5 million bail, agreeing to wear an electronic monitoring tag and surrendering his identity and travel documents while under house arrest in his chalet in the posh Swiss resort of Gstaad.
Swiss authorities announced in July 2010 that they would not extradite him because of potential technical faults in the US request regarding legal arguments that Polanski had already served his sentence before fleeing Los Angeles in 1978.
In another contentious case, Switzerland extradited Russia's former Nuclear Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov to his homeland after seven months in 2005. That ruling irked the United States, which had also sought his extradition on fraud charges.
Saudi financier Adnan Khashoggi was arrested while in Switzerland for medical checks at US request in 1989 on charges of racketeering and fraud linked to theft by former Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos. Three months later he was extradited to New York.