In what could become a prolonged legal battle in the handling of the Fifa corruption scandal, the United States has demanded the extradition of seven Fifa officials who were detained in Switzerland by the US Department of Justice in May.
Swiss authorities said on Thursday that the US embassy in Bern had sent an extradition request the day before. The procedure could take several months. The seven were detained in a dawn raid on a Zurich hotel on May 27 as the Fifa congress was about to start.
Fifa president Sepp Blatter was re-elected to a new term at the congress but amid a storm of controversy over parallel US and Swiss investigations, he quickly announced that he would stand down. Blatter has not been implicated in either inquiry and again strongly denied involvement in corruption in a German media interview released Wednesday.
The US legal authorities had until July 3 to make their request and a Swiss federal justice office statement said the embassy action was "within the timeframe set down in the bilateral extradition treaty" between the two countries.
The seven officials -- all from South and North America -- are being held in different prisons around Zurich and have all indicated they will fight extradition. The seven held include Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands and Eugenio Figueredo from Uruguay, who are both former Fifa vice presidents. Costa Rican Eduardo Li was supposed to join the Fifa executive committee in May.
There was also Brazilian football federation chief Jose Maria Marin, Nicaraguan Julio Rocha and Costas Takkas, a Briton who worked for the Cayman islands federation and Rafael Esquivel, president of the Venezuelan Football Federation.
All are accused by US authorities of involvement in more than $150 million of bribes given for marketing deals for football tournaments in North and South America. The seven are among 14 people -- officials and sports marketing company executives -- that US authorities have charged. Four others have already made deals with US prosecutors.
Zurich police will now question the seven officials again and they will have 14 days to respond to the extradition request, the federal justice office said. According to Swiss authorities, hearings could take at least six months to be completed. Any decision by the authorities can be challenged in federal courts.
Any delay would mean the hearings run alongside campaigning for a new Fifa president. Fifa declined to comment on the extradition request. "This is a matter for the relevant authorities," said a spokesperson.
Blatter said on June 2 that a new presidential election would be held and he would hand over to a successor. Indications that he could stand again have been strongly opposed by other Fifa leaders. The Fifa executive is to meet in Zurich on July 20 to decide a date for the election, expected between December 2015 and March 2016.
The 79-year-old Blatter has defended his own record, insisting in an interview with German magazine Bunte that no-one could accuse him of corruption. "I will answer: Do you understand this word at all which you use? Anyone who accuses me of being corrupt must first of all prove it to me," he insisted in the interview published Wednesday.
"No one can do that, because I am not corrupt."
The accusations against Fifa are unlikely to ease in the coming months, however.
Alongside the arrest of the Fifa seven, Swiss police are investigating the attribution of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively. Both have already been the target of a Fifa investigation. Football's world body said nothing had been found which merited a new vote.
But it has so far not released the full report made by former US federal prosecutor Michael Garcia who resigned from his role as a Fifa watchdog in protest.