The shadow of the steely US Attorney General Loretta Lynch hangs over world football barons as they gather to elect a new leader in Zurich.
The most powerful US law official has made clear her opinion of the guardians of the beautiful game who will vote for a new president on Friday. The last two FIFA congresses were raided under US warrants.
“The message… should be clear to every culpable individual who remains in the shadows, hoping to evade our investigation,” Lynch said after the last Zurich arrests in December.
“You will not wait us out. You will not escape our focus.”
The first African American woman to hold the post of attorney general unveiled the huge FIFA corruption campaign in May only weeks after being sworn in. She spent years overseeing the painstaking investigation in her previous job as a federal prosecutor in New York.
Between May and December, Lynch’s department announced indictments against 39 individuals and two companies over more than $200 million in football contract bribes dating back a quarter of a century.
Parallel US and Swiss prosecutions led to the downfall of FIFA president Sepp Blatter and rocketed Lynch onto the international stage. But for a career prosecutor who says no one is above the law, it was business as usual.
For years, the two-time attorney for the eastern district of New York worked tirelessly to put mobsters, terrorists, white collar criminals and rights abusers behind bars, combining legal aggression with charm.
Lynch, 56, grew up in Durham, North Carolina with a Baptist minister father and a librarian mother. She went to Harvard University, graduating with degrees in literature and law.
After working in private practice, she joined the US attorney’s office in Brooklyn in 1990, forging a reputation as a prosecutor in cases of narcotics, violent crimes, public corruption and civil rights.
She served on the prosecution team that convicted several New York police officers over the sexual assault and beating of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in 1997 — a case that rocked the city.
In 1999, she was appointed by President Bill Clinton to lead the US attorney’s office in Brooklyn, a political appointment she lost after George W. Bush took office in 2001.
– ‘Steel and velvet’ –
She returned to private practice and worked pro bono for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, established to prosecute those behind the 1994 genocide.
In 2010, she was re-appointed US attorney in Brooklyn by President Barack Obama. Under her leadership, the office prosecuted more terror cases after the September 11, 2001 attacks, including extremists who plotted to bomb the New York subway and the Federal Reserve Bank.
She went after corrupt public servants and politicians in both parties, cyber-criminals and human traffickers, and won billions of dollars in settlements in fraud cases involving major banks.
But she was saddled with heavy criticism for reaching a deal with HSBC that saved one of the largest banks in the world from criminal charges for money laundering — in exchange for a $1.9 billion fine.
In November 2014, Obama nominated her to replace Eric Holder, America’s first African American attorney general, but for nearly six months, Republican senators blocked her appointment.
“Loretta has spent her life fighting for the fair and equal justice that is the foundation of our democracy,” Obama said. Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein has called her a blend of “steel and velvet.”
In her confirmation hearings before the Senate last April, Lynch pledged to go after white collar crime and she was finally sworn in as the country’s 83rd attorney general on April 27, 2015.
Since becoming attorney general, she has ordered federal investigations into police practices in Baltimore, Chicago and San Francisco over the deaths of blacks at the hands of officers.
In February, she also announced the justice department was taking the city of Ferguson, Missouri to court for rejecting reforms following the police killing of unarmed black teen Michael Brown.
Lynch is married and has two grown-up step-children.