CONMEBOL sinks into crisis after arrest of last 3 presidents

CONMEBOL sinks into crisis after arrest of last 3 presidents

Published Dec. 3, 2015 10:19 a.m. ET

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) The arrests of the last three presidents of CONMEBOL has plunged South America's soccer body into the worst crisis in its nearly 100-year history.

Current president Juan Angel Napout was arrested on Thursday in a pre-dawn raid at a luxury hotel in Switzerland as part of the U.S. Department of Justice's widening bribery case into FIFA. The Swiss Justice Ministry says Napout, also a FIFA vice president, is opposing his extradition to the U.S.

Most of CONMEBOL's top past and present officials are involved in the scandal. While some have been arrested, others have abruptly resigned from the federations that make up the South American soccer body, and are reportedly collaborating with U.S. authorities in exchange for a reduced sentence.

The power vacuum has left CONMEBOL third vice president Wilmar Valdez as next in line to be president.


''Right now there's a lot of confusion about the management of the institution,'' an official at CONMEBOL said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. ''We're worried because there are several financial commitments that CONMEBOL must meet that need the accredited signature of the president.''

In May, former presidents Nicolas Leoz and Eugenio Figueredo were indicted by the U.S. Department of State. They were among 14 soccer officials and businessmen wanted on charges of bribery, racketeering, and money laundering. Their extradition is being sought.

Carlos Chavez, CONMEBOL's former treasurer and the president of the Bolivian Football Federation, was jailed in July on charges he diverted funds from a charity match.

Alberto Lozada, a member of CONMEBOL's disciplinary committee, was also placed under house arrest by a judge in the same case.

''CONMEBOL and CONCACAF are both in serious difficulty as there are no viable leaders, and most officials that work within the organizations will be somehow associated to those arrested, so there is perhaps no `clean' person to turn to,'' said Christopher Gaffney, a scholar at the University of Zurich who studies soccer and mega-events.

''We knew that the CONMEBOL figures in particular, who come from corrupt and opaque national federations such as the AFA, CBF, and UFA, would not have much incentive to clean up their operations,'' Gaffney said.

Sergio Jadue, the president of Chile's federation, recently resigned and traveled to the U.S. after he refused to answer questions from the federation over his possible links to the corruption scandal at FIFA. Local media reported he struck a deal with the FBI.

Jadue declared his innocence right after the FIFA scandal broke in May even though he was not formally charged in the U.S. Justice Department indictments. Without specifying them by name, the indictments said most presidents of the 10 South American federations would receive $1.5 million in bribes from marketing company Datisa in exchange for control of the Copa America.

Jadue's exit in November came days after the resignation of the head of Colombia's federation, Luis Bedoya. Both have been vice presidents of CONMEBOL, but they were not among the soccer executives named in the U.S. probe. Colombian prosecutors have said, however, that they are investigating financial transactions by Bedoya, and have requested information from U.S. authorities.

''The way in which global soccer is run is simply not transparent, and because FIFA prevents governments from ''interfering'' in federations, there is virtually no way to have strong governmental reforms implemented from the outside,'' Gaffney said.


Pedro Servin in Asuncion, Paraguay contributed to this report.


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