The United States has asked Switzerland to extradite seven FIFA officials arrested in an investigation into a global bribery scandal at soccer's governing body, the Swiss Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) said on Thursday.
The move marks the start of a legal process expected to last several months during which the officials, who have been in jail since being detained on U.S. arrest warrants in May, will either keep fighting extradition to the United States or agree to go.
The arrests of the seven, including two then-members of FIFA's executive committee, took place in a raid on a luxury Zurich hotel on May 27, two days before FIFA's annual congress, pitching the organisation into turmoil.
U.S. prosecutors say their investigation - which is running parallel to a separate Swiss inquiry - exposes complex money laundering schemes, millions of dollars in untaxed incomes and tens of millions in offshore accounts held by FIFA officials.
The seven were among 14 people charged in cases involving more than $150 million in bribes over a period of 24 years. Those being held in Switzerland include Jeffrey Webb, the former president of FIFA's Americas confederation CONCACAF, and Eugenio Figueredo, who sat on the executive at the time of their arrest.
The FOJ said it would rule on the extradition requests within a few weeks, based on statutory hearings and the responses of the FIFA officials.
A Swiss lawyer for one of the seven defendants who have challenged their extradition told Reuters on condition that neither he nor his client would be identified that he received a brief notification of the U.S. request for extradition from Swiss judicial authorities, but had no details on its contents.
"It is an extradition request for trial (in the United States). The trial will be the actual evidence proceedings."
However, international lawyers will be scrambling to arrive in Switzerland in coming days to join their local defence counsel to review documents and coordinate strategy, he said.
He expected the legal process to last until early or mid-August. His client was not negotiating any plea bargain in the United States, the Swiss lawyer said.
"Now lawyers will come in from all over the Western world," he said, adding that he expected his U.S. counterparts to arrive in Switzerland in coming days.
"We need to make translations and coordinate."
The U.S. Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment outside business hours.
Under a bilateral treaty, U.S. authorities had up to 40 days to file an extradition request -- by July 3. All seven of the officials had previously said they would contest extradition.
Proceedings under the treaty are relatively straightforward, even if the defendants have the right to appeal along the way, legal experts say.
If the FOJ orders extraditions, defendants may appeal to Switzerland's Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona.
The detainees were provisionally banned by FIFA's own ethics committee following the arrests. FIFA has said that it is cooperating with the investigation.
A Swiss court last month rejected one official's request to be released on bail, citing the risk he might flee.