Nicolas Leoz leaves FIFA executive committee

FIFA executive committee member Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay

resigned Tuesday, citing health reasons, just days before rulings

are expected to be announced in a World Cup kickbacks

investigation.

FIFA said the 84-year-old Leoz confirmed his departure by

letter, and that he would also step down as president of CONMEBOL,

the South American football confederation. He will also leave his

largely ceremonial position chairing FIFA’s 2014 World Cup

organizing committee.

”FIFA has taken note of the formal resignation of Nicolas Leoz

… for health and personal reasons,” football’s world governing

body said in a statement.

Leoz, who has undergone several rounds of heart surgery, has

been a member of FIFA’s board since 1998. He has been CONMEBOL

president since 1986.

”This is a strictly personal decision. My mental health is very

good but physically I’m not able to travel five times a year to

Switzerland and two other times to Japan,” Leoz said. ”I also

don’t have the needed energy to stay as head of the 2014 World Cup

organizing committee. I will not be able to travel to 10 cities (in

Brazil) to approve stadiums. But I will continue to support FIFA

and Brazil.”

Leoz, who noted he was ”very tired” after traveling to Panama

last week for the CONCACAF congress, said CONMEBOL officials will

meet next week in Paraguay to pick his successor from South America

at FIFA.

”It’s time to give way to younger officials,” he said.

The Paraguayan lawyer leaves FIFA in the same week that its

ethics judge is expected to announce decisions stemming from an

investigation into a longstanding financial scandal.

Leoz was identified during a Swiss criminal trial in 2008 as

having received payments from FIFA’s former marketing partner ISL.

The agency collapsed into bankruptcy in 2001 with debts of around

$300 million. The resulting prosecution of agency executives

revealed the widespread practice of buying influence from sports

officials.

Five years ago, Leoz was named in court papers for receiving

$130,000 from ISL. British broadcaster BBC later reported that Leoz

took payments totaling $730,000.

Last year, FIFA finally published a Swiss prosecutor’s report

which linked President Sepp Blatter’s predecessor, Joao Havelange,

and Ricardo Teixeira, then head of the Brazilian 2014 World Cup

organizing committee, to improper payments from ISL totaling $22

million.

Havelange remains FIFA’s honorary president, though his former

son-in-law Teixeira resigned from football citing health problems

before Switzerland’s supreme court ruled the report should no

longer be kept secret.

FIFA never opened proceedings against Leoz. He can still face

FIFA sanctions after it closed a loophole in its code of ethics

last year which previously allowed football officials to evade

disciplinary action if they resigned from their positions.

Leoz joins his former longstanding FIFA board colleagues

Teixeira, Jack Warner of Trinidad and Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar

in walking away from football while facing corruption

allegations.

All have left since Blatter was re-elected president of FIFA in

2011 promising to repair its reputation after a series of scandals

and allegations involving bribery, vote-buying and favor-seeking by

members of its high command.

Leoz’s departure could help Blatter in his efforts to convince

skeptics that FIFA is modernizing.

Critics have long characterized some high-ranking FIFA officials

as an old boys’ network with a sense of entitlement to perks and

privileges, and that allegations against some had not been

satisfactorily investigated.

Associated Press writer Pedro Servin contributed to this report

from Asuncion, Paraguay.