A sprawling U.S. bribery prosecution that has scandalized soccer's governing body took another step forward on Tuesday, with the former president of Honduras and a former FIFA vice president pleading not guilty at their first court appearance and authorities announcing that two other defendants would be extradited to face charges as well.
Former President Rafael Callejas, a current member of FIFA's television and marketing committee, was ordered to be held without bail at a hearing in federal court in Brooklyn. A judge agreed to release former FIFA Vice President Juan Angel Napout on a $20-million bond with various restrictions, including electronic monitoring and home detention.Both men are facing racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud charges for their alleged roles in a bribery scheme involving lucrative broadcasting and hosting rights for the World Cup and soccer's other biggest events. Their lawyers left the courtroom on Tuesday without speaking to reporters. Callejas' appearance came after Honduras officials say he decided to travel to the United States on the advice of his lawyers. Napout, a former president of the South American confederation from Paraguay, had consented to extradition from Switzerland, where he was arrested on Dec. 3.
The two were among 16 new defendants, most from Central and South America, named in a revised indictment that was unsealed earlier this month. U.S. prosecutors charged 14 others, including seven top FIFA officials arrested at Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich, in May.
On Tuesday, authorities announced that two of the original 14 charged including Nicolas Leoz, another former head of the South American football confederation, and Eduardo Li, former head of the Costa Rican football federation would be extradited to the United States. A Paraguay appeals court approved Leoz's extradition, while Li withdrew his appeal and agreed to depart Switzerland and be turned over to U.S. authorities.
The indictment alleges that in 2012 a marketing firm wired $500,000 to a Panama bank account so it could be paid as bribes to Callejas and another soccer official in exchange for broadcasting rights to qualifier matches for the 2022 World Cup. The indictment identified Napout as a member of a bloc of soccer officials known as the "Group of Six" that would receive annual bribes in exchange for supporting FIFA contracts with another marketing firm. Callejas served as president of Honduras from 1990 to 1994.
Michel Platini has decided not to attend his hearing before FIFA's ethics committee in Zurich, scheduled for Friday, his lawyers told AFP yesterday. A statement from the legal representatives of the suspended UEFA president said he chose to boycott the hearing after "the verdict was already announced to the press by a spokesman...going against the presumption of innocence."
Platini and FIFA president Sepp Blatter are currently serving 90-day bans from all footballing activities after Swiss prosecutors opened a criminal investigation looking partly into a $2-million payment Blatter authorized to Platini in 2011, reportedly for work done a decade earlier.
Both men risk being banned for life - Andreas Bantel, spokesman for FIFA's ethics committee, was quoted by French sports daily L'Equipe as saying that Platini would be sidelined for "several years."
Meanwhile, the CEO of World Cup sponsor Adidas says it will re-evaluate its FIFA deal if the scandal-hit governing body fails to change. Herbert Hainer tells German business daily Handelsblatt "If FIFA manages to reform itself and from my point of view they are on the right track we will continue." If FIFA falls short, Adidas "will consider what the alternatives are," Hainer says. Adidas is FIFA's longest-standing sponsor. It signed up to provide the ball for the 1970 World Cup and renewed through 2030.