KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING: Nicolas Leoz, veteran former FIFA high-flyer, is one last step closer to extradition from Paraguay to the United States and trial over FIFAGate corruption charges.
The 89-year-old was president of the scandal-riddled South American confederation from May 1986 until April 2013 and a member of the governing executive committee of the world football federation between 1998 and 2013.
Leoz was indicted by the United States Department of Justice in May 2015 when the scale of corruption at the apex of the international game was laid bare by then US Attorney-General Loretta Lynch and senior directors of the FBI and Internal Revenue Service.
Since then Leoz and his lawyers have resisted extradition from Paraguay on the grounds of wrongful procedure, age and ill health.
Now the Paraguayan Court of Appeals has voted two to one to approve an extradition order signed by Humberto René Otazú, the Criminal Judge of Guarantees, last November 16.
Leoz has been restricted to house arrest in Asuncion by the Paraguay courts pending a resolution of the extradition process.
He has denied the accusations and his lawyers have indicated he will exercise his right to lodge one last plea with the Supreme Court.
A sports journalist turned history teacher turned lawyer, Leoz was president of CONMEBOL from 1986 until 2013. He succeeded Peruvian Teofilo Salinas not only as president but as a member of FIFA’s exco over that period.
Leoz, along with the late Argentinian Julio Grondona and Brazilian Ricardo Teixeira, comprised a triumvirate who wielded a power within FIFA far beyond their numbers.
In 2000 Leoz published his autobiography. The title, Pido La Palabra (Give Me the Floor), amused FIFA officials and fellow exco members since Leoz was notorious for dozing off during committee meetings. Eight years later he was awarded honorary citizenship of Colombia in recognition of his ‘good offices’ to the country’s sports authorities.
In April 2013 Leoz suddenly quit CONMEBOL, the FIFA exco and the presidency of the 2013 Confederations Cup organising committee. Days later documents were published revealing he had received illicit commissions from FIFA’s bankrupted former marketing partner ISL Marketing.
The former president of Libertad club and the Paraguayan federation was also accused by ex-FA chairman Lord David Triesman of asking for a knighthood in exchange for voting for England in the FIFA World Cup 2018 ballot.
US court papers unsealed in May 2015 alleged 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 understood 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.”
Last December further insights into Leoz’s corrupting influence were offered in the New York trial which resulted in guilty verdicts on former football bosses Jose Maria Marin (Brazil) and Juan Angel Napout (Paraguay).
Brazilian businessman Jose Hawilla Hawilla said in evidence that he had been persuaded in 1991 to pay Leoz a bribe to renew a commercial rights contract for the Copa America in 1993, 1995 and 1997.
Alejandro Burzaco, former ceo of Argentinian rights agency TyC, told the court that Leoz had diverted into his own account a $5m FIFA payment meant for CONMEBOL from revenues generated by the Club World Cup. Burzaco also claimed Leoz had accepted bribes to vote for Qatar in the 2022 World Cup ballot.
At least three other former FIFA high-flyers remain beyond the long arm of US law.
Former Brazilian CBF presidents and FIFA exco members Ricardo Teixeira and Marco Polo del Nero cannot be extradited from their homeland because of a clause in the national constitution.
Jack Warner, an ex-FIFA vice-president and former head of central and north American governing body CONCACAF, is contesting extradition from Trinidad & Tobago.
** Hector Trujillo, former general secretary of the Guatemalan FA, has been banned from football for life and fined $200,000 by the FIFA ethics committee.
Last October Hector Trujillo was jailed for eight months and ordered to forfeit a total of $665,000 after becoming the first person sentenced in the FIFAGate corruption case.
Trujillo, a former judge and senior executive in his country’s football federation, had pleaded guilty to wire fraud and conspiracy over bribes in exchange for awarding contracts for media and marketing rights to World Cup qualifying matches.