BERN: The Swiss justice department has ruled that Rafael Esquivel, once one of the most powerful men in South American football, can be extradited to the United States writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

Esquivel is a former president of the Venezuelan football federation and first vice-president of South American governing body CONMEBOL.

He was one of seven FIFA-linked men seized by Swiss police on May 27 at Zurich’s Baur au Lac hotel acting on an extradition application from the US Department of Justice.

All faced charges of fraud, money laundering and conspiracy under an indictment alleging corruption concerning the misuse of more than $150m linked to international football tournaments in both North and South America.

Esquivel, according to a statement from the Swiss Federal Office of Justice, stands accused of receiving bribes worth millions of dollars in connection with the sale of marketing rights to the Copa América tournaments in 2007, 2015, 2016, 2019 and 2023.

Last week the Swiss authorities ruled that Eugenio Figueredo, a former FIFA vice-president and ex-president of South American confederation CONMEBOL, could also be extradited.

Esquivel has 30 days in which to appeal though he must submit notice on intention to do within five days.

The only grounds for appeal concern serious concerns about being granted a fair trial abroad.

Earlier this month Jeffrey Webb, the Cayman Islander who was formerly president of CONCACAF and a FIFA vice-president, accepted extradition to the US. He has denied all charges and is currently on bail.

More rulings

Extradition application rulings are still awaited in the cases of former FIFA exco member Eduardo Li (Costa Rica), Julio Rocha (ex-head of the Nicaraguan FA), Costas Takkas (former general secretary of the Cayman Islands FA) and José Maria Marin (former president of the Brazilian football confederation).

A statement from the Swiss authorities said that the initial arrest warrant for Esquivel had been submitted on May 20 and the formal request for extradition on July 1 by the prosecution service for the East District of New York.

Extradition was justifiable because “all conditions” had been fulfilled, in particular because the criminal offences outlined by the US authorities were also punishable under Swiss law.

The statement added: “By accepting bribes for the award of sports marketing contracts, Esquivel massively influenced the competitive situation and distorted the market for media rights in connection with the Copa América.

“Other sports marketing companies were placed at a disadvantage, and the affected football federations were prevented from negotiating more favourable marketing agreements.”

Esquivel was born in Tenerife on August 16, 1946, but his family emigrated when he was only four to escape the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

At 16 he entered the world of banking and became involved in football as both a player and amateur administrator. His family entered theatre management, property development and built up a successful petrol distribution company.

Esquivel retired from business in 1986 and devoted himself virtually fulltime to football. A year later he was appointed vice-presidenct of the Venezuelan federation. One further later and he was elected president after the death of René Hemmer. He was subsequebntly re-elected on a further nine occasions.

On March 4 of this year he was recognised as first vice-president of CONMEBOL . . . a role which lasted just two months three weeks until his arrest and suspension.