KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- FIFA could be drawn directly into the Uruguayan judicial investigation concerning an alleged extortion attempt against six of the country’s top clubs by senior officials of the South American football confederation.
Reports in Asuncion and Montevideo have indicated that judges may seek evidential declarations from FIFA and UEFA vice-president Angel Maria Villar, from his son Gorka Villar as well as from Marco Villiger – legal director of the world federation and who has been centrally involved in trying to resolve the political meltdown in Zurich.
The case concerns Uruguayan Eugenio Figueredo, a former president of CONMEBOL and who was a FIFA vice-president when he was among the seven senior officials arrested in Zurich last May at the request of the United States Department of Justice.
Although Figueredo has been indicted by the US DoJ the Swiss authorities granted his priority extradition not to the US but to Uruguay because legal action had already been initiated against him in December 2013.
This case revolved around a complaint by clubs and the local players’ union concerning Figueredo and CONMEBOL secretary-general Gorka Villar. The two had allegedly threatened to ban the clubs from lucrative South American competitions unless they dropped a court action demanding a larger slice of broadcasting and commercial revenues.
The case had been going nowhere until the US FIFAGate inquiry revealed that millions of dollars from CONMEBOL’s commercial deals had been siphoned off by corrupt officials to line their own pockets.
CONMEBOL is headquartered in Asuncion where Paraguayan prosecutors have recommended that Gorka Villar should be summoned to testify in Montevideo. Prosecutor Juan Bautista Gomez said: “It is evident that exortionate pressure was exerted by the executive committee of CONMEBOL against the Uruguayan clubs.”
Gomez said that Gorka Villar – “protected by his relationship with his father, a member of FIFA” – had been a key figure in the scheme.
On March 14 Hernan Galeano Bogado, Paraguay’s head of investigations into organised crime and money-laundering, ordered that Gorka Villar should appear within 10 working days before the Court of First Instance.
The newspaper El Pais has since published correspondence from FIFA in response to the initial court complaint from the Uruguayan clubs.
A letter to CONMEBOL signed by Villiger warned that recourse to the civil courts was expressely prohibited under international football statutes and that FIFA “can not tolerate such a course of action which would entail the adoption of appropriate disciplinary action by the competent bodies.”
The head of the FIFA legal committee, then and now, was and is Angel Maria Villar.
Figueredo has referred to both Villar father and son in his own court declaration.
He told prosecutors: “Senor Gorka Villar, taking advantage of the connection to his father, Angel Maria Villar . . . used the influence of his father so that FIFA endorsed the letter exerting pressure on the Uruguayan Football Association.
“This confirmed the letter from the confederation (CONMEBOL) and confirmation from FIFA saying that both the clubs and even the AUF could be suspended.”
The letter from Villiger was perfectly correct in its interpretation of football statutes prohibiting recourse to the civil courts.
However the issue for the judicial authorities is the context in which it was put to use by the leaders and senior officials of CONMEBOL.
Angel Maria Villar is currently involved in a political stand-off in Spain with the head of the National Sports Council over alleged maladministration.
Villar, a lawyer and former Spain and Bilbao midfielder, has said that he will stand later ths year for a further term as president of the Spanish federation which he has led since 1988.