Prosecutors begin to close in on Eduardo Li and other FIFA officials
As United States prosecutors seeking extradition continue to get help from Swiss authorities, there seems nowhere for Eduardo Li and some of the highest-ranking officials in international football to run while a long list of corruption charges hangs over them.
Li, the head of the Costa Rican Football Federation (FEDEFUTBOL) and a member of FIFA’s Executive Committee at the time of his arrest, is now subject to extradition to the U.S. after a ruling from the Swiss Justice Ministry on Tuesday. The 56-year-old Costa Rican will appeal the extradition order, according to his lawyer Roger Guevara.
Li faces two counts of wire fraud conspiracy and two counts of money laundering conspiracy, according to the May indictment from the U.S. Department of Justice, which could result in 20 years of prison time as well as potential civil forfeitures. Li has been in a Swiss detention center ever since his arrest on May 27 at a luxury hotel in Zurich.
After the U.S. sent its formal extradition request for Li to Swiss authorities in early July, Li’s former lawyer, respected Costa Rican defense attorney José Miguel Villalobos, told the Tico Times that it was unlikely Li would face extradition because he was not charged with committing a crime in Switzerland. He also said Li was not subject to conviction for wire fraud conspiracy on a $27,500 payment made to Traffic USA marketing group because the WellsFargo wire check was from FEDEFUTBOL, not Li personally.
Estefan Encarnación, a criminal attorney in the U.S., disagreed. He said the wire fraud charge could be subject to vicarious liability, which occurs when one person or entity is liable for negligence on behalf of another, even if they weren’t directly involved.
With cases involving wire fraud and racketeering, he said, any profits deemed to be made from the acts will be frozen and given back to the victims. He said in previous sentences of similar crimes, the U.S. courts have usually been willing to reduce or eliminate jail time if all illegal profits are forfeited.
“It really depends, too, if they want to make an example of somebody, because there is this whole discretion thing,” he said. “The way that the sentencing works is that the attorney general will do a recommendation for sentencing and the judge will have the ultimate decision.”
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and fellow prosecutors have continued to be aggressive in seeking the prosecution of Li and the other leaders of international football. Two weeks ago, Lynch said that the investigation into FIFA had expanded as new evidence sprouted up, and she promised more arrests would come.
Will Blatter be dethroned?
As the pieces around the king of international football began to fall, it was only a matter of time before FIFA president Sepp Blatter had to face blame himself. Though his home country (Switzerland) was assumed to shield him from the reach of Lynch and the U.S. justice system, Swiss authorities said Friday that they are investigating Blatter for criminal mismanagement and misappropriation of funds.
According to a statement from the attorney general’s office in Switzerland, Blatter was interrogated on Friday after a FIFA Executive Committee meeting. The statement said that Blatter made a “disloyal payment” to Michel Platini, the president of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA). Swiss investigators found that $2.13 million was given to Platini in 2011, supposedly for work he did for FIFA from 1998 to 2002. Coming nearly a decade later, the payment was made right around the time Platini decided not to run for the FIFA presidency.
Blatter’s lawyers released a statement Monday regarding the accusation: “On the Platini matter, President Blatter on Friday shared with the Swiss authorities the fact that Mr. Platini had a valuable employment relationship with FIFA serving as an advisor to the president beginning in 1998. He explained to the prosecutors that the payments were valid compensation and nothing more and were properly accounted for within FIFA including the withholding of Social Security contributions.”
The Swiss attorney general’s statement also said that Blatter signed a contract in 2005 with the Caribbean Football Union and its then president Jack Warner for a rate that was very favorable to Warner, who had served as vice president under Blatter.
On Tuesday, FIFA officials banned Warner for life, saying in a statement that he “committed many and various acts of misconduct continuously and repeatedly during his time as an official in different high-ranking and influential positions at FIFA and CONCACAF.”
Warner features prominently in the 161-page indictment from the Eastern District Court of New York. U.S. prosecutors accuse Warner of accepting a $10 million bribe from South Africa in 2004 to secure the nation’s role as host of the 2010 World Cup, among other charges. The embattled Warner is currently appealing an extradition order to the United States from his home country of Trinidad & Tobago. He posted a rebuttal to FIFA’s announcement on his Facebook page Tuesday morning.
“(If) FIFA wants to ban me for life without even a hearing then so be it,” he said. “I do not believe however that this will serve as the distraction to the FIFA’s present problems as the FIFA wishes it to be. Given what is happening in Zurich with Sepp Blatter I guess that there is no such thing as a coincidence.”
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