ASUNCION/NEW YORK: A judge in Paraguay has approved the extradition of Nicolas Leoz, former president of South American confederation CONMEBOL, to the United States where the first major trial in the FIFAGate investigation is under way writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

Leoz, who has a record of bribe-taking going back to the collapse of former FIFA marketing partner ISL, has resisted extradition not only on strict legal grounds but on the basis of age and ill health. He is 89 and has undergone heart surgery in the past.

He is currently under house arrest at his home from which he has been following the trial in which he was alleged to have received at least $5m in bribes.

Leoz, president of CONMEBOL from 1986 to 2013, was cleared for extradition by Judge Humberto OtazĂș over charges of money laundering, bribery, criminal association for the purpose of organised crime and conspiracy to undertake electronic fraud.

Lawyers for Leoz have indicated they will appeal that bribery within private business is not a criminal offence under Paraguayan law. A medical panel must also assess whether Leoz is able to travel.

A further appeal to the Supreme Court is also a further option.

The case against Leoz was strengthened by the evidence of bribery given by Alejandro Burzaco, former ceo of TyC, in the trial of former senior football bosses Jose Marin (Brazil), Manuel Burga (Peru) and Juan Angel Napout (Paraguay); all deny corruption charges arising from the six-year investigation undertaken by the United States Department of Justice.

Burzaco has also accused Leoz of receiving bribes to vote for Qatar in the FIFA executive committee ballot concerning host rights for the 2022 World Cup.

Cross examination

In New York on the third substantive day of the trial – which has already prompted one suicide and two death threats – Burzaco was cross-examined by defence counsel for the three defendants.

During questioning Burzaco made further references to Leoz, saying that the Paraguayan had diverted into his own account a $5m payment from world federation FIFA meant for CONMEBOL from revenues generated by the Club World Cup.

Burzaco was also asked about the $200,000 paid to Barcelona star Lionel Messi and other members of the Argentina national team by TyC. He said the money, a sum predicated on Messi playing, was shared among all the players and was entirely legal and above board.

As for himself, Burzaco estimated that, throughout his career, he had paid $160m in bribes to 30 different people. The main recipient was Julio Grondona, the former Argentina FA president and FIFA vice-president. Grondona died in the summer of 2014.

Burzaco said that the issue of how to continue distributing bribes for TV rights deals was raised with him at Grondona’s funeral by Napout and Marco Polo del Nero, the new president of the Brazilian confederation.

Burzaco estimated that between 2004 and 2015, he had pocketed $100m himself, most of which had been placed in trust funds for his children.