Paraguay's Senate votes to end soccer confederation immunity

AP News
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Posted: Jun 11, 2015 7:44 PM

ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) — Paraguay's Senate voted Thursday to repeal a law giving immunity to the headquarters of South America's soccer confederation, the latest fallout from a sweeping U.S. investigation into an alleged bribery scheme in FIFA.

The Senate's unanimous decision sent the bill on CONMEBOL's immunity to President Horacio Cartes, who has said he supports it. The measure was approved last week by the House of Deputies.

"I approve repealing the immunity because, as I said many years ago in this same chamber, CONMEBOL and FIFA are a mafia," said Sen. Juan Carlos Galaverna from the governing Colorado Party.

Later in the day, the Vatican suspended an agreement with CONMEBOL calling for the donation of $10,000 for every goal scored in the federation's Copa America tournament that began this week for an educational program set up by Pope Francis. A Vatican statement said the program would not take any funds until the investigation is clarified. The deal involved CONMEBOL, the Argentine Football Association and Tele Red Imagen SA, owner of the television rights to the tournament.

The moves come amid a major bribery scandal and investigation into the operations of FIFA, the international governing body for soccer. One of 14 soccer officials indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice was Nicolas Leoz, a Paraguayan and former FIFA executive committee member. He was also a former long-time president of CONMEBOL.

Leoz lobbied Paraguay's legislators in 1997 for the law making the headquarters exempt from legal intervention. The immunity includes protection from the kinds of raids that happened in May at FIFA and CONCACAF headquarters in Switzerland and Miami.

Leoz, president of CONMEBOL between 1986 and 2013, once bragged that only the Vatican enjoyed the same kind of "immunity and total privileges" that the organization's headquarters enjoyed.

"The police can't come in, nor can an investigating judge, nobody as long as this law is in force," Leoz told Argentine sports newspaper Ole in 2012.

Leoz is currently under house arrest. Through his lawyer, he has said he is innocent and will fight extradition to the U.S.

The organization's headquarters is still open. A call seeking comment Thursday was answered by a receptionist who said no executives were in the office or available to comment.

Also on Thursday, two of the three Argentines wanted in the U.S. investigation petitioned an appeals court in Buenos Aires to remain free while officials consider U.S. requests for their extradition.

Lawyers for Hugo Jinkis and his son Mariano said their petition was presented to the Federal Court of Appeals. The U.S has requested their extradition, which can be a lengthy process in Argentina.

Lawyers Francisco Castex and Jorge Anzorreguy told reporters that their clients remain in Argentina but didn't provide more details. The Jinkis are owners of Full Play, a sports marketing and broadcast company. They are accused of paying millions of dollars in bribes for rights of Copa America games.

The third Argentine wanted in the case, Alejandro Burzaco, who has dual Argentine-Italian nationality, turned himself in to Italian police on Tuesday.

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Associated Press writer Almudena Calatrava in Buenos Aires, Argentina, contributed to this report.