ASUNCION: Nicolas Leoz may yet avoid the fate of his successors as presidents of CONMEBOL and avoid extradition from Paraguay to the United States writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
Leoz, who headed the South American confederation between 1986 and 2013 and served as vice-president of world governing body FIFA, has been indicted by the US Justice Department for his role in the FIFAGate scandal.
However he hopes to evade removal to the US because of his age and poor health.
Leoz is accused of “criminal conspiracy of organized crime . . . criminal association of electronic fraud . . . electronic fraud . . . criminal association for money laundering . . . [and] money laundering” between 2010 and 2013.
He had retired from his football posts before the Swiss police, at the US’ request, swooped on senior world football officials in Zurich on the eve of FIFA Congress in 2015.
CONMEBOL presidential successor Eugenio Figueredo was also indicted and is currently on trial over prior corruption offences in his native Uruguay. Next-in-line Juan Angel Napout, a millionaire Paraguayan businessman, is currently under house arrest in the US awaiting sentence later this year.
US court papers allege that Leoz played a major role in coercing a New Jersey marketing agency to divert slices of CONMEBOL sponsorship monies to his fellow members of the CONMEBOL executive committee.
International Soccer Marketing was owned and run by Zorana Danis (nee Vidinic) who is believed to have agreed a settlement of her own with US investigators.
The indictment states: “Leoz specified various means for the Co-Conspirator #5 [understood to be ISM/Danis] to make the payments, including direct payments into bank accounts controlled by Leoz, diversion of funds owed to CONMEBOL into Leoz’s personal bank accounts, and transfers of extra-contractual payments into a CONMEBOL bank account.”
Leoz was placed under house arrest in Paraguay after the authorities were served with a US extradition request. He also spent some time undergoing hospital care over heart concerns.
His lawyers failed in all their attempts to oppose the extradition and on February 3 a criminal court ordered the Attorney-General’s Office to issue the necessary extradition papers within 10 working days.
However activation officials have been advised to keep in mind laws concerning “the special characteristics that may be generated by the eventual situation of vulnerability in which the defendant could be found”, such as age and health.
Paraguayan law provides for alternative sentences rather than custody for criminals aged more than 70 so Leoz’s lawyers are expected to make representations on age and health grounds.