KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Angel Maria Villar, one of the most powerful men in world football for the past two decades, has been suspended from the game provisionally for a year by the Spanish sports council.
Villar, a senior vice-president of both world federation FIFA and European governing body UEFA, had led his own Spanish association for 29 years until he was arrested earlier this week along with lawyer son Gorka on corruption charges.
The suspension of the former Spain and Bilbao midfielder was ordered by the 14-strong board of directors of the CSD, three days after Villar was refused bail by a national court because he was judged a flight risk.
A police investigation has been running for more than a year, investigating allegations of improper influence, conflict of interest and misappropriation of funds. A statement of facts runs to more than 2,000 pages including transcriptions of three months’ worth of wire taps.
Villar has also been alleged to have covered significant losses by the Spanish federation by drawing down on the RFEF’s reserves.
Over the past year internal Spanish football sources had been awaiting legal trouble for Villar senior though previously he had always managed to escape from the snares of controversy and continue his high-status football career.
He was rapped over the knuckles by the FIFA ethics committee for obstructing an inquiry into the scandal-wracked 2018-2022 World Cup bid process when he led the doomed Portugal/Spain cohosting campaign. The recently-released report portrayed Villar in the most arrogantly unflattering light.
Indeed, it was no secret that he was a member of the Latin coalition ‘old guard’ who tried unsuccessful to halt in its tracks the work of American ethics investigator Michael Garcia and threatened to have him sacked.
Yet Villar survived to carry on as if nothing had happened and even took up the acting role of UEFA president last year after the banishment from football of previous head Michel Platini. In that acting role Villar presented the 2016 Champions League Cup to Real Madrid in Milan and the European Championship trophy to Portugal in Paris.
Last week Villar and his son were detained in coordinated raids organised by the central operations unit of the Spanish Civil Guard and authorised by National Court Judge National Court Santiago Pedraz.
Operacion Soule – named after a French ball game from the Middle Ages – included a search of the RFEF offices in Madrid, removal of documentation and the arrest of eight other people including the FEF’s financial vice-president Juan Padron. Apart from also being an FEF vice-president Padron is also head of the Tenerife association whose secretary Ramon Hernandez Baussou was also detained.
Under scrutiny are concerns that Villar devolved federation funds to regional football bosses in return for votes. He had already said, after being re-elected for the eighth time in May, that this would be his last term in office.
Separately the courts are also examining a complaint that Villar and the Spanish federation misused €1.2m of public funds in the 2018 World Cup bid. The money, handed over originally by the national sports council, was meant to support four educational projects in Africa and Central America. None of the projects ever came to fruition and the federation agreed to hand back the cash.
Villar has claimed that his signature on the contract for an earthquake relief project in Haiti was a forgery.
Also under scrutiny is the manner in which Sports and Advisers, Gorka Villar’s law firm, secured commissions from associates of his father within FIFA. This included image and broadcasting rights from a number of national team friendly matches including a game against South Korea on June 1, 2016.
Judicial investigations are also under way into allegedly illicit channelling of RFEF funds to the cash-strapped Recreativo de Huelva and San Marino de Tenerife.
Villar is one of the few survivors from the FIFA executive committee which voted, in December 2010, to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively. Most of the rest have been banned or quit the game of their own volition.
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