TIME russia

Russia Sees U.S. Conspiracy Against World Cup Plans in FIFA Scandal

Sweeping corruption probes in the U.S. and Switzerland have cast a shadow over Vladimir Putin's plans to host the international soccer championships in 2018

Russian officials were quick to claim Wednesday that a U.S. conspiracy is behind the corruption scandal that shook the world of international soccer. Early that morning, police in Switzerland complied with a U.S. request to arrest nine senior officials at FIFA, the sport’s governing body, as part of a far-reaching probe into decades of alleged bribe-taking and backroom deals.

But why, the Russians asked, would a nation as indifferent to soccer as the U.S. pursue a corruption probe at the heart of the game? Even more suspect to many in Moscow was the timing of the dragnet in Zurich: The next FIFA World Cup tournament is due to be held in Russia in 2018, and President Vladimir Putin has been overseeing the preparations personally.

“So there are clearly forces in America that are trying to turn anything positive that we have into a new channel of confrontation,” Kirill Kabanov, who monitors corruption in Russia as a member of the Kremlin’s council on civil society, told TIME on Wednesday. “And even if there was bribery going on [at FIFA], why would the Americans only bring it up now, just after FIFA refused the demands of [U.S.] Senators to revoke Russia’s right to host the champions?”

His question referred to an appeal that 13 U.S. Senators sent last month to the President of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, asking him to move the 2018 World Cup to another country. After Putin decided last spring to invade and annex Ukraine’s Crimea region, “allowing Russia to host the FIFA World Cup inappropriately bolsters the prestige of the Putin regime at a time when it should be condemned,” the Senators wrote in the letter, which was dated April 1.

Less than three weeks later, Blatter met with Putin in the Russian resort city of Sochi and issued an apparent rebuttal to the appeals from Capitol Hill. “If politicians are not too happy that we are taking the World Cup to Russia, I always say to them, ‘Well, you can stay home, and in Russia we will hold the biggest world cup ever,'” the FIFA chief told Putin on April 20, according to a transcript on the Kremlin website.

Putin responded with a promise that day: “We will at the very least achieve one objective and will organize this big event in Russia,” he said. But the President had no comment on the unfolding firestorm in Switzerland on Wednesday. “This is not our issue,” the Kremlin said through a spokesman. And indeed, no Russian citizens were among the 14 people indicted by the Eastern District of New York, including two FIFA vice-presidents.

The acting U.S. Attorney in the case, however, made clear that the probe was far from over: “This indictment is not the final chapter in our investigation,” Kelly Currie told reporters in New York.

Swiss authorities then gave another sign that Russia could yet become a target.

As part of a separate investigation, the Attorney General of Switzerland said investigators had also raided FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich on Wednesday, seizing a trove of documents related to FIFA’s decision in December 2010 to award Russia and Qatar the rights to host the next two World Cup tournaments. These files would be used as evidences in “criminal proceedings against persons unknown on suspicion of criminal mismanagement and of money laundering in connection with the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 Football World Cups,” the Swiss Attorney General said in a statement.

Asked at a crowded news conference on Wednesday whether these tournaments could be under threat, FIFA’s spokesman insisted that both would carry on as planned. “Russia and Qatar will be played,” said the spokesman, Walter de Gregorio. “This is what is fact today. I don’t go into speculation about what will happen tomorrow.”

In the coming days, the Russian official most likely to face scrutiny over this scandal would seem to be Vitaly Mutko, Putin’s Minister of Sport. In 2009, FIFA elected him to its main decision-making body, the Executive Committee, and the following year, Mutko became the driving force behind Russia’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup.

The legality of that bid’s success is now a key focus of the Swiss investigation. But as Mutko told reporters on Wednesday, “We have nothing to hide.” Despite media reports to the contrary, he said, Swiss investigators had not asked to question him in relation to their case: “This is not related to the [Russian] campaign to host the world championships.”

But some of Mutko’s peers in Moscow were not so ready to profess Russia’s innocence, at least not in any investigation where the U.S. plays a role. “The Americans can investigate whatever and however they want,” says Viacheslav Fetisov, the Russian hockey legend who served as Russia’s top sporting official under Putin from 2004 until 2008. “So we’ll just have to see what they come up with,” he tells TIME in a phone interview.

Even more measured was the response from Vasily Shestakov, who was Putin’s friend and sparring partner in the 1960s, when they were both teenagers studying judo at the same gym in Leningrad. Now a member of the Russian parliament’s committee on sport, Shestakov admits that in the world of international soccer, “There is very big money swirling around. Temptation is unavoidable.” And in the upper echelons of FIFA, “there may have been an element of corruption,” he told Russia’s state news agency on Wednesday.

What bothers him, though, is the fact that the U.S. is pursuing this case against corruption now, of all times, just as Russia prepares to host the premier tournament of global sports. What if the roles had been reversed, he wondered. What if the U.S. had been chosen to host one of the upcoming World Cup championships? To Shestakov the answer seemed clear: “There would never have been any of these arrests.”

TIME Switzerland

Switzerland Plans to Close Loopholes that Let International Sporting Organizations Be Above the Law

FIFA and other bodies are subject to the same laws as tiny village associations, which are protected by Swiss law

Switzerland is not a stranger to scandals – its banks have long been embroiled in money laundering and tax evasion. Now, the international football organization headquartered in this Alpine nation is in turmoil as well.

The arrest on Wednesday of seven FIFA officials on charges of corruption involving more than $150 million in bribes and kickbacks has plunged the soccer’s controversial governing body into crisis.

Swiss police confiscated documents and electronic data after raiding FIFA’s Zurich headquarters on Wednesday as part of an on-going investigation into money laundering and fraud that came to light after the organization awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively.

As the detained officials are holed up in a luxury Zurich hotel awaiting extradition to the U.S to face criminal corruption charges, some politicians here claim that the abuses went unnoticed because the organization had not been sufficiently scrutinized. “FIFA likes being based in Switzerland because it enjoys very loose governmental and financial oversight,” right-wing parliamentarian, Roland Buechel, writes on his website.

However, it may soon become more difficult for sports organizations to engage in illegal activities. Last December, the parliament passed a law spearheaded by Buechel that would increase the government oversight of FIFA and other sporting bodies based in Switzerland, which have had little scrutiny.

Currently, FIFA, along with about 60 other Switzerland-based sporting bodies – including the International Olympic Committee (IOC) – operates under an “association” status, which means it is exempt from Swiss anti-corruption laws that govern all businesses. Or, as Buechel notes, “FIFA is organized like a small yodeling association in a mountain village. They should be structured like a proper company.”

Perhaps because of the lack of stricter oversight, other Switzerland-based sporting bodies had also been at times embroiled in controversy – in 1998, for instance, several IOC members were charged with taking bribes worth millions of dollars from the Salt Lake City Bid Committee. In 2009, FIFA’s sister organization, The Union of European Football Associations, was involved in a betting scandal, when it tried to influence the outcome of soccer games. And a couple of years ago, the International Cycling Federation faced heavy criticism in the wake of doping scandals like that of the former professional racing cyclist, Lance Armstrong.

The proposed law would designate top executives of sports organizations like FIFA’s Sepp Blatter or IOC’s head Thomas Bach as “politically exposed persons,” which means that their bank accounts would be carefully monitored for suspicious activities.

This legislation is scheduled to be debated in parliament next week, but, due to the notoriously slow nature of the country’s legislative process, may not be enacted until 2017.

In the meantime, Buechel and other lawmakers who are working on the new legislation are hoping that, from now on, the only kickbacks in the sports industry will happen on the soccer field.

TIME Middle East

Palestinians Hope FIFA Corruption Scandal Won’t Affect Motion to Expel Israel

Israel rejects Palestinian charges of preventing freedom of movement for Palestinian players and not cracking down on racism

Palestinians hope that the United States and Switzerland’s investigations into corruption in FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, won’t obscure the Palestinian Football Association’s call to expel Israel from the body.

Xavier Abu Eid, an advisor to Jibril Rajoub, the delegate of the Palestinian Football Association, insisted the discussion of Israel’s violation of FIFA’s laws would not be derailed by the corruption investigation which saw seven senior officials arrested for extradition to the U.S. during a dawn raid on Wednesday at a Zurich hotel.

“The issue of Israeli violation against Palestinian football is part of the agenda. It will be discussed and decisions must be made,” said Abu Eid on Wednesday.

Rajoub has proposed a controversial motion to have Israel suspended, one that is scheduled to be debated on either Thursday or Friday when FIFA’s congress meets in Zurich. In order to pass, the motion would require the support of three-quarters of its 209 member federations. Rajoub’s main contention is that Israel violates FIFA bylaws by preventing freedom of movement for Palestinian soccer players, maintains five FIFA-registered teams in settlements located in the occupied West Bank, and has done nothing to crack down on anti-Arab racist epithets sometimes chanted by extremist fans at games in Israel. The Israel Football Association rejects the charges.

This is the third time that Rajoub had made a motion to eject Israel from FIFA; the other two times he was persuaded to back down by FIFA president Sepp Blatter. But despite Blatter’s visit here last week to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, this time Rajoub is not backing down, despite many “direct and indirect threats” he says he has received and what he describes as increasingly inappropriate treatment he receives from Israel.

“I have been treated in a humiliating way during the past four years. Come with me to the bridge and see how I am humiliated when I travel,” he says in an interview with TIME, speaking about his return from Jordan over the Allenby Bridge, a common land route for Palestinians traveling abroad. The border crossing is controlled by Israel, whom Rajoub also accuses of preventing his players from traveling freely in the Palestinian territories or going abroad, as well as barring players, coaches and training materials from being brought in from overseas.

Nasser Shiyoukhi—APHead of Palestinian football Association Jibril Rajoub speaks during a press conference in Ramallah in the West Bank on May 25, 2015.

Rajoub says that he has asked his Israeli counterpart to back him up on his requests, but to no avail. Israel Football Association President Ofer Eini has said that any restrictions faced by Palestinian footballers is a security matter that is beyond his power. Not good enough, says Rajoub.

“The Israeli team has chosen to be a tool for apartheid rather than for peace. Their football association is following the agenda of the extremist right-wing government now ruling in Israel,” Rajoub said at a press conference here Monday as he was preparing to leave for Switzerland. “We believe the Israeli association has to pay a price for systematically violating FIFA statutes. We would have expected the Israeli association to take our concerns seriously, and so they must be solved by the FIFA congress instead. If you don’t see a dramatic move,” he added, “you should see a suspension of the Israeli team by Thursday.”

Israeli officials say politics ought to be kept off the pitch. “The conflict is something that the United Nations and other bodies will deal with, it is not something FIFA should deal with,” says Shlomi Barzel, the spokesman for the Israel Football Association.

“If you want to take each one of Jibril Rajoub’s accusations, I don’t want to say he’s lying but to be polite, he’s twisting to the truth. For one, we’re not the only country in the world dealing with racism. In fact, our national team is a beautiful combination of Arab and Jewish players. This is part of a political agenda by the Palestinians, and football is just one part of it. I can’t say if there is going to be a solution, but we think a big majority of the members will support Israel staying in the association.”

It remains very unclear, however, as to whether Rajoub’s motion has a chance of passing. But he has succeeded in bringing some of the core complaints surrounding Israeli domination over Palestinian lives into the international arena as part of his campaign. Blatter says he opposed the motion because, as he put it, FIFA is the wrong address for political grievances. But he also noted in his visit here last week that he does not have the power to take the motion off the table or otherwise prevent the congress from passing it. In a statement, the organization indicated Tuesday it was looking at the question of whether Israel could actually be considered accountable for violating FIFA statutes.

“The FIFA president will report to the congress on this dossier later this week with the aim of providing a framework for strengthening the development of football in the region,” said the statement. “The executive underlined that a FIFA member association should not be suspended if it has not violated the FIFA statutes.”

TIME United Kingdom

The Queen’s Speech Throughout the Years

Every year and after every election, the Queen outlines the government’s new legislative agenda in Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech also known as the Queen's Speech. The speech is part of the opening of a new session of parliament and the Queen addresses both houses of parliament in the House of Lords. Queen Elizabeth II first made the speech in 1952 and this year's marks her 62nd address in the House of Lords. In 1974, the Queen made two speeches as there were two elections and she has missed it on two occasion due to pregnancy in 1959 and 1963.

TIME Iraq

ISIS Suicide Attacks Against Iraqi Army Kill 17

isis-attack-sandstorm-ramadi-iraq
AP In this May 14, 2015 file photo, security forces defend their headquarters against attacks by Islamic State extremists during a sandstorm in the eastern part of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, Iraq.

The attacks came after the Iraqi government announced an operation against ISIS

(BAGHDAD)—Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) extremists unleashed a wave of suicide attacks targeting the Iraqi army in western Anbar province, killing at least 17 troops in a major blow to government efforts to dislodge the militants from the sprawling Sunni heartland, an Iraqi military spokesman said Wednesday.

The attacks came just hours after the Iraqi government on Tuesday announced the start of a wide-scale operation to recapture areas under the control of the ISIS group in Anbar.

Brig. Gen Saad Maan Ibrahim, the spokesman for the Joint Military Command, told The Associated Press the attacks took place outside the Islamic State-held city of Fallujah late Tuesday night.

The militants struck near a water control station and a lock system on a canal between Lake Tharthar and the Euphrates River where army forces have been deployed for the Anbar offensive, he said.

Ibrahim added that the Islamic State extremists used a sandstorm that engulfed most of Iraq on Tuesday night to launch the deadly wave of bombings. He said it was not clear how many suicide attackers were involved in the bombings but they hit the military from multiple directions.

Last month, the water station near Fallujah fell into the hands of Islamic State militants — following attacks that also included multiple suicide bombings and that killed a general commanding the 1st Division and a dozen other officers and soldiers, he said.

Iraqi government forces recaptured the station a few days later. Fallujah lies to the east of the Anbar provincial capital of Ramadi, which was captured by the Islamic State militants nearly two weeks ago in what was a major, humiliating defeat for Iraqi troops at the hands of the extremists.

The Iraqi operation to retake Anbar, which is said to be backed by Shiite militias and Sunni pro-government fighters, is deemed critical in regaining momentum in the fight against the Islamic State.

The extremists captured Ramadi in Iraq and the Syrian ancient town of Palmyra earlier this month, showing that it is able to advance in both countries despite months of U.S.-led airstrikes. Capt. Andrew Caulk, a U.S. Air Force spokesman in Qatar, told the AP it will continue to provide air support “to government-controlled Iraqi forces” throughout the country, including near Ramadi, where it has been carrying out airstrikes for several months.

Syria’s foreign minister said Wednesday that his government is not pinning any hopes on the U.S.-led coalition striking at Islamic State group militants in his country.

At a news conference in Damascus, Walid al-Moallem said the coalition was active in preventing the Kurdish town of Kobani from falling to the extremists last year but that this support seems to have “evaporated” after that.

The United States did nothing to prevent the ancient town of Palmyra in Syria or the province of Anbar in Iraq from falling into their hands, he said.

“We’re not pinning any hopes on that alliance and anyone who does is living an illusion,” al-Moallem added.

Al-Moallem also said Iraq and Syria were fighting the same battle but added that security coordination between their two armies “has not reached the desired levels.”

Also Wednesday, Syrian activists said the Islamic State group released two elderly Christian women who had been held along with dozens of others since February in northeastern Syria.

At the time, they kidnapped more than 220 Assyrian Christians after overrunning several farming communities on the southern bank of the Khabur River in Hassakeh province.

The two women, who are 70 and 75 years old, were released on Tuesday and have now reached the northwestern city of Hassakeh, said Osama Edwards, director of the Assyrian Network for Human Rights.

Another activist group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the two were likely released because of their poor health. Some of the captives had been released previously.

Edwards said the Islamic State group is still holding 210 Assyrian Christians and is demanding $100,000 for each hostage.

___

Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut and Adam Schreck in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

TIME Autos

The Surprising Reason Why China’s SUV Sales Are Up Almost 50%

china car suv rise
Weng lei—AP Masses of cars travel on a road in Shanghai, China, April 2, 2015. Concern for personal safety amid rising road rage is among the reasons China's SUV registrations surged 48 percent in the first quarter of this year, according to a research note Sanford C. Bernstein released May 27, 2015.

Chinese drivers want that tank feeling too

The SUV, perhaps the most American of vehicles, is making a big splash in China, according to a new report.

China’s total SUV registrations rose 48% in the first quarter, according to investment research firm Sanford C. Bernstein. SUV registrations represented 27% of all vehicles registered in China during the first quarter of this year, nearly doubling the rate from just three years ago.

The interest in bigger trucks comes at least partially because Chinese drivers are suffering from some serious road rage, Bloomberg reports. With many drivers fearing for their safety while on the roads in China, they are opting for the bigger, more secure feeling of SUVs. The rise in road violence has grown along with a huge burst in vehicle ownership overall in the country, and the incidents have gotten so bad that the government has released a video urging drivers to calm down.

TIME Soccer

See John Oliver Take Down FIFA

John Oliver slammed the soccer governing body long before the corruption scandal broke

If you’re confused about what led to the the arrest of International Football Association (FIFA) officials on Wednesday, a piece on comedian John Oliver’s show from nearly a year ago may shed light on the situation.

Oliver covers it all from sexist remarks by the organization’s top official to poor treatment of migrant workers constructing World Cup stadiums. FIFA is much like established religion, Oliver argues.

“Just think about it. Its leader is infallible. It compels South American countries to spend money they don’t have building opulent cathedrals, and it may ultimately be responsible for thousands of deaths in the Middle East,” Oliver said.

Watch below:

Read Next: What to Know About the U.S. Investigation Into Soccer’s Governing Body

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Soccer

What to Know About the U.S. Investigation into Soccer’s Governing Body

Swiss prosecutors also announced a further investigation into wrongdoing in the awarding of World Cup hosting rights to Russia and Qatar

Police in Zurich arrested seven top officials of FIFA, the federation that runs world soccer after the U.S. Justice Department in New York unsealed indictments of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering against them and seven others. Then Swiss police raided FIFA’s headquarters in that city, carting away hordes of documents and hard drives, with Switzerland’s Attorney General charging that Russia and Qatar had effectively bought their hosting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments, respectively. The soccer world is reeling and here’s why:

What is FIFA?

FIFA is the French acronym for the International Federation of Association Football, or soccer as it is known in the U.S. Headquartered in Zurich, it has grown from just eight European countries in 1904 to a global behemoth now, comprising 209 national soccer organizations, which pay dues, and compete in the World Cup every four years.

How corrupt is the soccer world?

The U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch says the corruption within FIFA has gone on for decades, involves millions of dollars in bribes, and is ““rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted” both inside the U.S. and abroad. Top officials allegedly took millions in bribes from countries vying to win hosting rights to the World Cup, which takes place every four years and is the biggest sporting event on the planet. Just two weeks ago Argentina’s iconic player Diego Maradona called FIFA “a mafia.”

What are the charges against soccer officials?

The U.S. alleges top FIFA officials took, or agreed to take, “well over $150 million in bribes and kickbacks” to lock in big money-making marketing rights.” FBI Director James Comey says there was “a culture of corruption and greed” for many years. Also on Wednesday, Switzerland’s Attorney General’s office raided FIFA headquarters and seized documents and hard drives, saying they’re investigating separate money laundering and criminal mismanagement charges, in connection with FIFA members’ vote to hand Russia hosting rights for the World Cup 2018, and tiny oil-rich Qatar for the 2022 World Cup.

How rich is FIFA?

FIFA makes billions from the World Cup tournaments. Much of that money comes from TV broadcast rights and marketing deals. Last week FIFA released its 2014 financial statement, showing that it made $4.5 billion from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, with $2.6 billion in clear profit after expenses.

Who’s been arrested?

The most famous people in custody are Jeffrey Webb, FIFA’s vice president and head of the Miami-based COCACAF, which runs soccer in the U.S., Canada, Central America and the Caribbean; Jack Warner, the previous COCACAF president. Also facing trial are the soccer presidents for Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Webber is a close ally to FIFA president Sepp Blatter, and until Wednesday many regarded him as Blatter’s likely successor.

What happens next?

The seven FIFA officials arrested in Zurich could be extradited to New York to stand trial with seven others arrested in the U.S. and elsewhere. (Here is the full list of defendants.) As FBI investigators pore over the FIFA documents the Swiss seized on Wednesday, it is possible that others could face charges of wrongdoing. In New York, Acting U.S. Attorney Kelly T. Currie said the indictments showed that officials were determined to stamp up soccer corruption completely. “Let me be clear: this indictment is not the final chapter in our investigation,” he said.

FIFA will also face intense pressure to publish an anti-corruption report, which a former New York prosecutor, Michael Garcia, prepared for the organization last November, and which has never been made public.

What’s FIFA’s response?

FIFA says it will go ahead with its congress in Zurich, including voting Friday for the organization’s president. FIFA’s current president Sepp Blatter, who has run the organization for 17 years, is standing for a fifth four-year term. Blatter is not under indictment, but the arrests and charges could cause irreparable damage to his leadership. Jordan’s Prince Ali Bin Hussein is standing against him in Friday’s vote, in a campaign to end decades of corruption.

Will FIFA cancel the Russian and Qatar World Cups?

So far FIFA insists the 2018 and 2022 Word Cups will go ahead as planned. But that could change: FIFA spokesman Walter de Gregorio told reporters in Zurich, “Russia and Qatar will be played. This is what is fact today. I don’t go into speculation about what will happen tomorrow.”

TIME Soccer

U.S. Accuses Soccer Officials of Decades of ‘Rampant, Systemic and Deep-Rooted’ Corruption

"Let me be clear: this indictment is not the final chapter in our investigation”

In a cascading explosion of events that sent the soccer world into shock on Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that officials of the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) — the world’s most powerful and lucrative sporting body — had engaged in decades of criminal actions in which they pocketed millions of dollars in bribes over more than two decades. Unveiling charges of money laundering, racketeering and wire fraud against 14 people, including nine FIFA officials, Lynch said the charges showed “corruption that is rampant, systemic and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States,” and that “at least two generations of soccer officials… have abused their positions of trust to acquire millions of bribes and kickbacks.”

“They did this over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament,” Lynch said at a press conference on Wednesday.

In a morning that left FIFA officials reeling, Swiss police stormed the Zurich hotel rooms of seven executive committee members before dawn on Wednesday, hauling them into custody in preparation for extradition to New York, whose Eastern District court unveiled indictments against 14 people, including two FIFA vice presidents, involving bribe-taking and fraud worth millions and dating back to 1991.

That was not the end of the morning’s stunning events. Within hours, Switzerland’s Attorney General’s office announced it had raided FIFA headquarters in Zurich on Wednesday and seized hordes of documents and computer hard drives, in connection with “criminal mismanagement and money laundering.” The Swiss charges relate to FIFA’s decision in December 2010 to award the World Cup to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022. The prospect of Qatar hosting the Cup was greeted with incredulity as it has never qualified for the tournament, it has a population of just over two million and its summers are too hot for outdoor sports although it one of the richest countries in the world. Qatar beat the U.S. by a single vote.

FIFA’s management tried to downplay the severity of the charges on Wednesday and attempted to portray the organization as having been the victim of errant figures within its executive ranks — casting the indictments as the result of a few rotten eggs within an otherwise clean organization. “We are very happy about what is happening right now,” FIFA spokesman Walter de Gregorio told a packed press conference at the organization’s headquarters in Zurich, where football officials from across the world are gathered this week for FIFA’s congress, and to vote on Friday for a new (or reelected) president. “It is once again FIFA suffering under these circumstances. It is certainly a difficult moment for us.”

De Gregorio did not appear to have read the Department of Justice press release published Wednesday in which Acting U.S. Attorney Kelly T. Currie of the Eastern District of New York said that Wednesday’s announcement was a message that enough was enough. “After decades of what the indictment alleges to be brazen corruption, organized international soccer needs a new start – a new chance for its governing institutions to provide honest oversight and support of a sport that is beloved across the world, increasingly so here in the United States. Let me be clear: this indictment is not the final chapter in our investigation.”

FIFA’s hastily arranged press conference appeared designed to quarantine the organization and its president Sepp Blatter from the turmoil raging around them, and to allow this week’s meeting to go ahead as planned — as well as to try to prevent FIFA members from reopening the votes on the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. “Russia and Qatar will be played. This is what is fact today. I don’t go into speculation about what will happen tomorrow,” de Gregorio told reporters.

How FIFA can control the damage from Wednesday’s charges and arrests, and keep the organization on track, is still unclear. But De Gregorio reminded journalists several times that it was FIFA itself that had opened the corruption investigation in Switzerland last November, which led to Wednesday’s raid. He said not even Blatter had known about the impending arrests, despite the fact that he has run the organization with despotic control for 17 years, and is up for reelection for a fifth term in office.

Among those arrested in Zurich was one of Blatter’s closest allies, FIFA Vice President Jeffrey Webb, who heads the regional football association for North and Central America and the Caribbean (CONCACAF), and who many have regarded as Blatter’s likely successor. Despite that, de Gregorio insisted Blatter was untouched by Wednesday’s events. “The president is not involved,” he told reporters, and they bombarded him with questions about the FIFA president’s viability. “Of course he is the head of FIFA. But he is not involved, so how can you say he has to step down? He is the president, he is the president, and in two days he will stand for reelection.”

The raids in Switzerland were preceded by the unsealing of a 47-count indictment early Wednesday morning in federal court in Brooklyn, New York. It also emerged that four individual defendants and two corporate defendants had already pleaded guilty.

Two of the most senior officials were Webb and Jack Warner, the former president of CONCACAF, whose headquarters in Miami were also raided Wednesday.

The Department of Justice also revealed that two sons of Jack Warner, Daryll and Daryan Warner pleaded guilty to wire fraud and other charges in July 2013. The other men who pleaded guilty were Charles Blazer, the former CONCACAF general secretary and a former FIFA executive committee member and José Hawilla, the owner and founder of Traffic Group, the Brazilian sports marketing conglomerate. Hawilla also agreed to forfeit over $151 million, $25 million of which has been paid.

Two companies, Traffic Sports USA Inc. and Traffic Sports International Inc. also pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy.

TIME Aviation

Malaysia Airlines Begins a Huge Makeover, but First Lays Off a Third of Its Workforce

A man views a fleet of Malaysia Airline planes on the tarmac of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, in Malaysia, Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015.
Joshua Paul—AP A man views a fleet of Malaysia Airline planes on the tarmac of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, in Malaysia, Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015.

Airline bets on total transformation to help it overcome the legacy of 2014's two air disasters

Malaysia Airlines (MAS) reassured customers Monday that operations would continue as normal as the airline is restructured into a new company and undergoes an overhaul of its brand.

“You can continue to make reservations in full confidence that our flights and schedules are operating as normal, that tickets sold will be honored,” recently appointed CEO Christoph Mueller said in a statement.

The beleaguered airline has struggled to repair its image after two high-profile air disasters last year — the disappearance of MH370 in March and the shooting down of MH17 over Ukraine in July. (Malaysian aviation took a further battering in December, when AirAsia Flight 8501, operated by the Indonesian affiliate of Malaysian low-cost carrier AirAsia, crashed into the Java Sea, killing all 162 on board.)

MAS’ overhaul includes laying off between 6,000 to 8,000 employees — about one-third of its 20,000 workforce — and hiring a senior administrator to oversee the transfer of assets and liabilities into the new company, Malaysia Airlines Berhad, by September.

“All employees will get the termination letters and either a letter to join the new company, or to register … [for] outplacement,” a company spokesperson told CNN.

Last year, Malaysia Airlines was pulled from the stock exchange and taken over by the Malaysian government’s strategic investment fund Khazanah Nasional, which came up with a $1.66 billion restructuring plan.

CEO Mueller, who was hired from Irish carrier Aer Lingus, took the top job on May 1 and told Reuters the new company would be like a “startup.”

“It’s not a continuation of the old company in a new disguise, everything is new,” he said.

But Malaysia Airlines was incurring losses prior to 2014 and had costs 20% higher than other rival airlines. Add not one but two disasters within four months of each other, with a still missing plane, and the restructure may not be enough to repair the damage to its brand and Malaysian aviation in general.

“Those two losses have compounded an already difficult and uneconomic situation,” Jason Middleton, head of the School of Aviation at the University of New South Wales, Australia, tells TIME. He adds that while Malaysia Airlines can argue that the loss of MH17 was not its fault, poor communication from the airline and the government have probably tarnished its reputation regardless.

“Cheap seats and a convenient schedule will still bring passengers to use [Malaysia Airlines],” Middleton says. He adds that selling off old aircraft and trimming down the route network “will help their bottom line, but perhaps not sufficiently that they will stop the losses.”

One of the biggest challenges the airline faces is recovering the public’s confidence. “Air disasters can play a big part in the economic impact of the aircraft but also the psyche of the traveling public,” Michael Daniel, an international aviation-safety consultant, tells TIME.

Daniel suggests that the airline keep an eye on the emergence of the ASEAN single aviation market, which is expected to liberalize air travel between member states. In the meantime, MAS will simply have to be patient.

“I suspect that the many of the public will take a while to forget, and that there is little they can do except wait and hope that there is not another accident,” says Middleton.

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