GENEVA, Switzerland — The Swiss justice ministry on Thursday approved the extradition of Nicaragua‘s Julio Rocha to the United States over charges he accepted bribes.
Rocha was one of seven then-FIFA officials arrested by Swiss authorities on the request of their U.S. counterparts in May as an unprecedented corruption scandal engulfed world football’s governing body.
“The Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) has approved the extradition of Julio Rocha to the USA, and his subsequent extradition from the USA to Nicaragua,” said a Swiss FOJ statement.
“The Nicaraguan citizen has 30 days in which to appeal to the Swiss Federal Criminal Court against the FOJ’s ruling.”
Rocha, who was formerly the president of the Nicaraguan Football Federation (FENIFUT), has been held in custody since his arrest on May 27, just two days before the FIFA presidential election that saw Sepp Blatter gain a fifth consecutive term, although four days later he announced his decision to stand down.
Blatter has since been suspended for 90 days as he is accused of criminal mismanagement.
“Rocha is accused of demanding and taking bribes of $150,000 (135,000 euros) for himself and another soccer official in connection with the sale of marketing rights to FENIFUT’s World Cup 2018 qualifiers to a US sports marketing company,” said the FOJ.
Rocha, 64, had already agreed last month to be extradited back to his home country after Nicaragua had requested his extradition to Swiss authorities in August.
The Swiss approved that extradition request but explained that they had decided to extradite Rocha to the U.S. because their request, made in July, was part of a wider investigation, whereas the Nicaraguans’ applied only to Rocha.
“The key point in this decision is the fact that the U.S. authorities have been conducting wide-ranging criminal proceedings against a number of individuals for some time now,” said the FOJ in its statement.
“These individuals are already in the USA, or are to be extradited to the USA. Most of the evidence and witnesses are also located in the USA.”
Of the six other officials arrested in Zurich last May, former FIFA vice-president Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands agreed and was subsequently extradited to face corruption charges in the U.S.
Swiss authorities had already approved the extradition to the U.S. to face the same charges of others arrested in the corruption sting — former Venezuelan Football Federation president Rafael Esquivel, Uruguayan former FIFA vice-president Eugenio Figueredo, former head of the Costa Rican Football Federation Eduardo Li and former general secretary of the Cayman Islands Football Association Costas Takkas.
Although not among the seven arrested, Blatter is being investigated by Swiss prosecutors over the sale of World Cup television rights and a $2 million (1.8 million euros) payment to UEFA president Michel Platini.
Last week both Blatter and Platini were suspended from football for 90 days by FIFA’s ethics committee pending the investigation.
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Two other former FIFA officials, Jack Warner and American Chuck Blazer, have been banned from all football-related activities for life for their roles in the sale of television rights at grossly deflated values.
Warner is fighting extradition to the U.S. from his home on Trinidad and Tobago while Blazer has turned whistleblower and is assisting U.S. authorities.
U.S. authorities have charged 14 people in relation to more than $150 million in bribes given for television and marketing deals.