By Mark Hosenball and Joshua Franklin
WASHINGTON/ZURICH, December 3rd, 2015 (Reuters) – Football bosses from across South and Central America were among 16 people charged by U.S. prosecutors on Thursday with multimillion-dollar bribery schemes for marketing and broadcast rights to tournaments and matches, a widening of a corruption probe into the sport.
Court documents showed that the heads of the CONMEBOL and CONCACAF associations running football in the Western Hemisphere were charged along with current and former chiefs of the Brazil Football Confederation (CBF), which hosted the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals.
CONCACAF acting president Alfredo Hawit of Honduras, a vice president of world football’s governing body FIFA, and CONMEBOL head Juan Angel Napout of Paraguay were arrested in a pre-dawn raid by Swiss police at a hotel in Zurich near the headquarters of FIFA, which has been in turmoil since a first round of indictments and arrests last May.
The new indictment identified Brazil Football Confederation chief Marco Polo del Nero and former CBF head Ricardo Teixeira in the list of defendants, both former FIFA executive committee members. Texeira is the former son-in-law of longtime FIFA president Joao Havelange. In 2012, Swiss prosecutors said Texeira and Havelange took millions of dollars in bribes in the awarding of marketing rights for World Cup finals tournaments.
“Two generations of football officials abused their positions of trust for personal gain, frequently through an alliance of unscrupulous sports marketing executives who shut out competitors and kept highly lucrative contracts for themselves through the systematic payment of bribes and kickbacks,” the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement.
It said that 27 people in all have been charged since May, accused of running ran schemes designed to solicit and receive more than $270 million in bribes and kickbacks to sell media and marketing rights for footba tournaments and matches.
Ironically, a FIFA executive committee approval of a package of reforms in Zurich to clean up the scandalized organization was overshadowed by the arrests and new charges.
The former head of Panama’s federation, Ariel Alvarado, was among those charged, according to the indictment. Alvarado led football organization in the Central American country from 2000 to 2011 and served on the executive committee of CONCACAF.
Argentine nationals Jose Luis Meiszner and Eduardo Deluca, current and former secretary generals of South America’s confederation, were also charged.
CONMEBOL said it would “continue co-operating at all times with the investigation of authorities, and will continue deepening administrative reforms…”
In a similar statement, The Confederation of North, Central America and the Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) said the developments strengthened its “resolve in continuing to enact significant structural and governance changes…”
In Miami on Thursday, FBI agents searched the office of Media World, an affiliate of Spanish media giant Imagina Group. Media World was one of the unidentified sports marketing companies mentioned in a U.S. indictment in May as having agreed to pay a bribe to a high-ranking football official in the Americas, sources told Reuters in July.
(Additional reporting by Michael Shields and Brian Homewood in Zurich, Mica Rosenberg and David Ingram in New York, Sarah N. Lynch in Washington and Ben Gruber in Miami; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Grant McCool)