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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Costa Rican Soccer Head Guilty in FIFA Scandal

BROOKLYN (CN) — As the FIFA bribery scandal spreads farther across the globe, the former president of the Costa Rican Soccer Federation pleaded guilty Friday to racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud and wire fraud conspiracy.

Eduardo Li, 57, faces up to 20 years for each count, and must forfeit $668,000 in bribe money.

"I knew that it was wrong of me," Li said in Spanish at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn this afternoon.

An interpreter repeated the words in English as Li read from his confession, seated at the defense table in a black suit.

"I used those payments to my pay my debts," he said.

Li's undoing was part of a growing spider web of corruption being uncoverd in the international governing body of soccer.

Among various branches of law enforcement investigating FIFA are the U.S. Attorney's office in Brooklyn, the FBI, the IRS and Interpol.

At least 16 soccer officials have been snared so far on charges of a 24-year bribery scam that earned FIFA $150 million. The investigations remain ongoing.

Li was a member-elect of the FIFA executive committee before his May 2015 arrest in Zurich. In the two years prior to his arrest, Li also belonged to Concacaf, short for the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football.

Li's plea hearing took the better part of an hour, with U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen carefully walking the defendant through procedure. Chen will determine Li's sentencing at a later date.

Charges against Li involved his awarding contracts for the media and marketing rights to FIFA World Cup qualifier matches. Prosecutors said Li earned hundreds of thousands of dollars by running "international friendly" matches for the Costa Rican team Fedefut from 2007 to 2015.

Throwing his weight around as president of Fedefut, Li took bribes in exchange for awarding a Florida sports-marketing company, Traffic, the media and the marketing rights to the Costa Rican national soccer team's World Cup qualifier matches for 2002 season.

To designate a U.S. company as the official outfitter of the Costa Rican Team, Panamanian intermediaries offered a $500,000 bribe, "which I agreed to accept," he said.

But Li received only $230,000 in U.S. cash in 2014 and 2015.

Li told the judge he also embezzled for his own use over $900,000 of funds to support 2014's Under-17 FIFA Women's World Cup soccer team in Costa Rica by "submitting invoices for services" that were never performed.

A string of high-ranking officials have previously admitted to roles in the FIFA scandal. Former FIFA vice president and Concacaf executive Alfredo Hawit, 64, pleaded guilty to racketeering, two counts of wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice in April. He faces 20 years on each count.

Rafel Callejas, the former president of Honduras, pleaded guilty in March and faces up to 20 years in prison for each of the racketeering and wire-fraud conspiracy charges against him.

Callejas was president of the South American country from 1990 to 1994. He then served as president of that nation's football club from 2002 to 2015.

A federal judge from Guatemala, regional officers with CONCACAF and the former Guatemalan soccer chief are caught up in the scandal as well.

Meanwhile, in May, a FIFA exec named Julio Rocha, of Nicaragua, filed a federal complaint against insurers o provide coverage.

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