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article imageParaguay judge rules ex-soccer boss Leoz can be extradited

By AFP     Nov 16, 2017 in World

A court in Paraguay ruled Thursday that ex-South American soccer chief Nicolas Leoz could be extradited to face trial in the United States over alleged bribery and money laundering.

However the judge, Humberto Otazu, said his ruling was conditional on a medical board being set up to evaluate the health of 89-year-old Leoz.

His lawyer Ricardo Preda told AFP last week that Leoz is in frail health and receiving round-the-clock nursing care. He said he would appeal a decision to extradite his client.

One of the main suspects in the huge FifaGate scandal being investigated by the US Justice Department, Leoz is currently under house arrest in Asuncion.

The former president of the Confederation of South American Football (Conmebol) is suspected of receiving millions of dollars in bribes in exchange for marketing and TV rights for games.

He denies any wrongdoing.

Several former world soccer bosses are on trial in New York, where witness testimony has exposed rampant corruption in the business of world football.

The FIFA corruption trial began Monday, two and a half years after the United States unveiled the largest graft scandal in the history of world soccer.

Three South American defendants are in the dock, charged with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies.

Juan Angel Napout, former head of Conmebol and vice-president of FIFA, Jose Maria Marin, former head of Brazil's football federation, and ex-chief of Peru's soccer federation Manuel Burga.

Burga was Wednesday accused of making a neck-slashing gesture in court to intimidate a witness and the judge ordered him to be confined with GPS monitoring and to communicate only with his lawyer.

The court has heard evidence from the witness, sports marketing company director Alejandro Burzaco, that millions of dollars in bribes were paid for TV rights to major tournaments.

Burzaco said he bribed all three defendants, alleging that Marin received payments of $300,000, going up to $450,000 a year.

Bribes were sent by wire transfer to Swiss bank accounts or passed on as cash "in bags or envelopes," he said.

Fox Pan American Sports, part of 21st Century Fox, Brazil's TV Globo, Argentine group Full Play and Spain's MediaPro were among those who paid, according to his testimony.

- 'Not Punishable in Paraguay' -

Leoz has been fighting extradition since shortly after seven FIFA executives were arrested by Swiss police in 2015 as part of a huge investigation into the world soccer body.

He was admitted to hospital for a heart condition while his successor as Conmebol chief, Eugenio Figueredo, was being arrested in Geneva.

He was later detained by police in Paraguay and placed under house arrest.

Leoz "is 89, is in delicate health, which is worsening over time. He has nursing care 24 hours a day. He hasn't traveled by plane for the last four years," Preda said last week.

"We are convinced that the extradition request will not succeed," he said.

"Without going into the substance of the matter, the facts he is accused of in the United States are not punishable in Paraguay," said Preda.

The alleged bribes are considered as commissions in South America because the money involved was a transaction between private individuals, he added. It's only an offense if they are paid to a public body or to a civil servant, the lawyer said.

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