Nicaraguan former soccer official extradited to U.S. to face bribe case

Reuters News
Posted: May 18, 2016 11:28 AM

By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former FIFA official from Nicaragua who was responsible for overseeing the soccer governing body's development efforts in Central America has been extradited from Switzerland to face U.S. charges stemming from a wide-ranging bribery probe.

William Sullivan, a lawyer for Julio Rocha, confirmed his client had been extradited and said he will plead not guilty to the charges, which also include money laundering and wire fraud.

Rocha, who is also a former president of the Nicaraguan soccer federation, is scheduled to appear in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, on Wednesday to be arraigned on charges including racketeering conspiracy.

Rocha is among 42 individuals and entities charged as part of a U.S. investigation into more than $200 million in bribes and kickbacks sought by soccer officials for marketing and broadcast rights to tournaments and matches.

He was one of seven soccer officials arrested at a Zurich hotel in May 2015 as part of the investigation, which has sent Switzerland-based FIFA and other governing bodies into an unprecedented crisis.

To date, 15 people and two corporate entities have pleaded guilty.

The Swiss Federal Court this month cleared the way for Rocha's extradition after rejecting his appeal to be sent to his home country, where he faced separate charges.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Brooklyn, which is overseeing the case, confirmed Rocha's arraignment was scheduled but declined further comment on his extradition.

Rocha was president of the Nicaraguan soccer federation, the Federacion Nicaraguense de Futbol, until 2012, and was president of the Central American Football Union from 2003 to 2007. He became a FIFA development officer based in Panama in 2013.

The indictment alleged that beginning in 2007, an executive at Brazilian sports marketing firm Traffic Group's Miami unit agreed to pay bribes to four soccer federations' presidents to obtain contracts from their organizations.

Those presidents included Rocha, who in 2011 began negotiating with the executive to renew worldwide commercial rights to exploit the Nicaraguan soccer federation's rights to 2018 World Cup qualifier matches, the indictment said.

During the talks, Rocha sought a six-figure bribe, the indictment said. In May 2011, Traffic executives directed $150,000 be wired to an account held by an intermediary, $100,000 of which was for Rocha, the indictment said.

He continued to seek bribe payments even after stepping down as the federation's president in 2012, the indictment said.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by James Dalgleish)