Ex-Nicaraguan Soccer President Guilty in FIFA Scandal

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – The former president of Nicaragua’s soccer federation is the latest top-level former FIFA officer to plead guilty to racketeering and corruption charges.

Julio Rocha, who served as a development officer for Central America and parts of the Caribbean for the international soccer governing body, faces as much as 20 years behind bars for the charges, which include accepting more than $150,000 in bribes to influence marketing rights to World Cup qualifier matches.

In May 2015, Rocha was one of seven then-FIFA officials arrested in Switzerland.

The group was later extradited to the United States, where the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn has been prosecuting the scandal. Rocha initially pleaded not guilty but changed his plea to guilty on Dec. 7.

U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen presided over the Brooklyn plea hearing.

The government’s announcement says Rocha used his 14-year position as president of the Nicaraguan soccer federation, also known as Fenifut, to help Florida-based sports marketing company Traffic Sports USA obtain media and marketing rights to World Cup qualifier matches during the 2014 and 2018 editions.

During his time as president, Rocha also took kickbacks from a Miami-based company to secure corporate sponsorships for Fenifut.

After Rocha stepped down from Fenifut in 2012, he served as a FIFA development officer, where he continued to accept bribes in exchange for helping Traffic Sports’ land marketing rights in the 2022 World Cup qualifier matches.

Rocha agreed to forfeit $202,000 as part of his plea deal.

Other soccer officials and politicians who have been caught up in the growing FIFA bribery scandal include former the former president of Honduras; Rafel Callejas faces 20 years in prison for his role in the global racketeering scandal after pleading guilty in March.

The multiyear investigation into corruption among South and Central American FIFA officials and marketing companies eventually led to 14 indictments and an eight-year ban of FIFA President Sepp Blatter from soccer-related activities. Blatter on Monday lost an appeal of the FIFA ban. He still faces possible indictment over bribery allegations.

Other countries, including Germany and Australia, are now investigating possible bribery among other FIFA officials.

Rocha’s high-profile arrest last year with six other high-level FIFA officials occurred during an annual FIFA conference in Zurich.

Nearly a year after his arrest, Rochafiled a federal complaint against Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s of London and Axis Specialty Europe, saying the insurers had refused to provide coverage.

.Among the others arrested and indicted were former Costa Rican Soccer Federation President Eduardo Li, who earlier this year pleaded guilty to accepting bribes in exchange for media and marketing rights to World Cup qualifier matches in Costa Rica.

Former Traffic Sports USA President Aaron Davidson pleaded guilty in October for his role in bribing FIFA officials to land the marketing rights. Other marketing companies, such as International Soccer Marketing, have been questioned or sued regarding their contracts with FIFA.

FIFA also recently suffered another scandal involving possible child abuse at soccer camps in Britain. Roughly 450 people have reportedly spoken out about child abuse at the camps in recent weeks.

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