Last FIFA sus­pect pleads not guilty in US

The African - - POT POURRI -

EX-FIFA of­fi­cial Julio Rocha pleaded not guilty in New York to cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions Wed­nes­day, the last sus­pect ex­tra­dited from Switzer­land in con­nec­tion with the mas­sive scan­dal rock­ing world soc­cer.

The for­mer pres­i­dent of the Nicaraguan Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion en­tered his plea to a raft of cor­rup­tion of­fenses be­fore a judge in Brook­lyn shortly af­ter he ar­rived in the United States from Zurich.

He ap­peared in court dressed in a blue jacket and dark trousers, and flanked by three lawyers. The for­mer FIFA de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer, once based in Panama, is charged with wire fraud, money laun­der­ing and var­i­ous con­spir­acy counts.

Rocha was the last FIFA sus­pect flown from Switzer­land, a year af­ter he was ar­rested at a lux­ury ho­tel by Swiss po­lice act­ing on a US war­rant fol­low­ing an enor­mous fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion into cor­rup­tion.

Six oth­ers ar­rested in May 2015 and two sus­pects de­tained in De­cem­ber have all since been ex­tra­dited to the US or their home coun­tries.

Rocha had ac­cepted ex­tra­di­tion to Nicaragua, where he also faces charges, but fought bit­terly against be­ing sent to the United States, los­ing two ap­peals.

US pros­e­cu­tors ac­cuse him of tak­ing bribes in ex­change for the sale of sports mar­ket­ing rights for World Cup qual­i­fiers when he led the Nicaraguan fed­er­a­tion.

The United States has ac­cused 40 of­fi­cials and mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tives of so­lic­it­ing and re­ceiv­ing tens of mil­lions of dol­lars in bribes and kick­backs in a case that has sparked an un­prece­dented cri­sis at FIFA.

More than a third of them, 15 peo­ple, have pleaded guilty and agreed to co­op­er­ate with US pros­e­cu­tors in ex­change for a pos­si­ble re­duc­tion in sen­tence.

The judge over­see­ing the sweep­ing scan­dal has in­di­cated that he may set a trial date for the other de­fen­dants af­ter June 30, when pros­e­cu­tors are sched­uled to share the bulk of ev­i­dence be­ing col­lated in the mas­sive in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

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