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Former El Salvador Soccer Boss Pleads Not Guilty in FIFA Bribery Case

The former president of El Salvador’s soccer league appeared in Brooklyn federal court on Friday after being extradited on racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering charges.

BROOKLYN (CN) — The former president of El Salvador’s soccer league appeared in Brooklyn federal court on Friday after being extradited on racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering charges. 

Already banned from FIFA activities, Reynaldo Vasquez now awaits trial in the United States, accused of taking bribes in exchange for media and marketing rights to matches played by the Salvadoran national soccer team and ensuring the team participated in certain friendly matches.

Vasquez was head of the Federacion Salvadorena de Futbol between June 2009 and July 2010. Many of his co-defendants have been convicted on charges stemming from the FIFA bribery scandal that blew up in 2015, when dozens of soccer executives were arrested. 

Unlike Vasquez, who pleaded not guilty Friday, some of those charged took deals to avoid trial. 

The scandal made its way to the top of FIFA, taking down the organization’s Swiss president, Joseph "Sepp" Blatter. 

In a superseding indictment from March 2020, Vasquez and others are said to have “conspired to use their positions to engage in schemes involving the solicitation, offer, acceptance, payment and receipt of undisclosed and illegal payments, bribes and kickbacks.” 

The document alleges that the defendants “provided one another with mutual aid and protection,” including using sham contracts and invoices to make illicit payments appear legitimate. 

For now, the former official will be held in Brooklyn, U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen ruled Friday. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristin Mace pointed to Vasquez’s strong ties in El Salvador, and the fact that his charges could carry a sentence of up to 20 years — “just a short list” of factors for the court to consider in granting a temporary order of detention. 

“We may be prepared to present additional evidence later,” Mace said. 

Chen scheduled another hearing for April, but acknowledged that Vasquez could appear sooner to discuss bail, which his attorney said would be prepared shortly. 

“I’m sure we’ll be in court on a bail package before then,” said Gary Cutler, representing Vasquez. 

In October 2019, FIFA banned Vasquez from all soccer-related activities for life, and fined him $522,000, for corrupt activities related to money from friendly matches between 2009 and 2015. 

The former official was sentenced to eight years in jail in El Salvador in March 2017. 

In Brooklyn, 14 people, including Vasquez, were accused of taking part in the scheme in a 2015 indictment. Among those charged were Jeffrey Webb and Jack Warner, former presidents of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football. 

Then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a news conference at the time that the scheme to get kickbacks from broadcast rights, which spanned more than two decades and earned FIFA $150 million, was extensive. 

“They did this over and over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament,” Lynch said in 2015.

Follow @NinaPullano
Categories / Criminal, International, Sports

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