KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS —- Nicolas Leoz, for years one of South America’s most powerful yet suspect football executives, has been detained in hospital in Asuncion pending a United States extradition application.
Leoz, now 86, is the oldest man to be detained in the worldwide police swoops triggered by the Justice Department indictment concerning multi-million corruption, mainly among football leaders and marketing companies in the Americas.
He has a long record as one of the men who accepted bribes from ISL before the collapse into criminal bankruptcy in 2001 of world federation FIFA’s long-term marketing partner.
More recently, Leoz reportedly wanted a knighthood in return for voting for England in the 2018 World Cup award process.
Judge Humberto Otazu ordered the detention of Leoz who has been in hospital since last Wednesday, the day of the judicial explosion in and around world federation FIFA.
Leoz, who has undergone a number of heart operations, was said to have been admitted to hospital because of blood pressure concerns.
Otazu, who visited Leoz in hospital, said Leoz opposed extradition on the grounds that “does not know the grounds on which he is being accused.”
The judge also said that Leoz was “lucid” but stressed by both the situation and “his advanced age.”
The US government has 60 days to submit documentation to support the extradition request. During that time, Leoz can remain under house arrest since the Paraguayan criminal code prevents custody for people aged more than 70.
Otazu summaried the charges as “conspiracy to plan or engage in organised crime with fraudulent intent.”
Leoz, sports journalist turned history teacher turned lawyer, was president of the South American confederation CONMEBOL from 1986 until 2013. He succeeded Peruvian Teofilo Salinas not only as president but as a member of FIFA’s exco.
Along with the late Argentinian Julio Grondona and Brazilian Ricardo Teixeira, Leoz comprised a triumvirate who had wielded a power within FIFA totally beyond their numerical status.
A former president of the Libertad club and twice a president of the Paraguayan federation in the 1970s, Leoz was accused by ex-FA chairman Lord David Triesman of asking for a knighthood in exchange for voting for England in the FIFA World Cup 2018 ballot.
Leoz always denied any wrongdoing.
In April 2013 Leoz suddenly quit CONMEBOL, the FIFA exco and the presidency of the 2013 Confederations Cup organising committee. He timed his departure just ahead of publication of the ISL documents.
Uruguayan Eugenio Figueredo took over as acting president of CONMEBOL.
Figueredo was about to relinquish both that role and a position of his own on the FIFA exco when he was detained by the Swiss police last Wednesday. Later that day the US Justice Department published a ‘wanted list’ which included Leoz.
In 2000 Leoz published his autobiography. The title, Pido La Palabra (Give Me the Floor), amused FIFA officials and fellow exco members since Leoz was notorious for dozing off during committee meetings.
The US Justice indictment
The US Justice Department indictment described Nicolas Leoz as being in a position ” to use his power and influence to unlawfully enrich himself.”
“During the defendant Nicolas Leoz’s presidency, CONMEBOL developed a lucrative commercial relationship with Traffic, a growing sports marketing company that had been founded a few years earlier in Brazil.
“In 1986, Traffic, represented by [Jose Hawilla] (the company’s founder and owner), entered into a contract with CONMEBOL to acquire the worldwide commercial rights associated with the 1987 edition of the Copa America, CONMEBOL’s men’s national team tournament.
“Traffic would remain the exclusive holder of these rights through the 2011 edition of the tournament.
“Beginning in the early 1990s, as the value of the rights associated with the Copa America increased, various CONMEBOL officials, including the defendant Nicolas Leoz, began soliciting bribe payments from [Hawilla] in exchange for the performance of various acts, including the renewal of the Copa America contract.
“Over time, [Hawilla] . . . paid tens of millions of dollars in bribes to CONMEBOL officials in connection with,·among other things, the Copa America contracts, media and marketing rights to other South American soccer tournaments, and sponsorship rights acquired by United States sportswear companies.
“[He] used a number of sophisticated money launderitig techniques to pay bribes and kickbacks, often relying on intermediaries to make and conceal bribe payments to the defendant Nicolas Leoz and other soccer officials.”