Football: Former Conmebol VP Rafael Esquivel of Venezuela pleads guilty in Fifa scandal

Former Venezuelan Football Federation president Rafael Esquivel exits the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse in the Brooklyn borough of New York, on March 10, 2016.
Former Venezuelan Football Federation president Rafael Esquivel exits the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse in the Brooklyn borough of New York, on March 10, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (AFP) - A former president of Venezuela's football federation on Thursday pleaded guilty over the massive Fifa corruption scandal, eight months after posting a US$7 million (S$9.86 million) bond and professing his innocence.

Rafael Esquivel, 70, also a former vice-president of the South American Football Confederation (Conmebol), pled guilty to seven counts of racketeering, wire fraud and money-laundering conspiracies.

He also agreed to forfeit more than US$16 million, as part of his plea in a US federal court in Brooklyn, New York.

The charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years for each count.

Esquivel obtained millions dollars in bribes linked to awarding sports marketing contracts associated with the Copa America tournament, prosecutors said.

He was arrested in Zurich in May last year as part of a US-led investigation into graft at football's world governing body.

Esquivel was extradited to the United States in March this year and placed under house arrest in Florida after pleading not guilty.

US prosecutors accused 40 officials and marketing executives of soliciting and receiving tens of millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks in a case that sparked an unprecedented crisis at Fifa.

Many have since pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for a possible reduction in sentence. Two companies were also accused.

Only five defendants are left under house arrest in the United States, facing a trial that a federal judge has recommended should begin in New York next fall.

The US investigation rocked Fifa to the core and ultimately led to the downfall of its former president, Sepp Blatter, who is serving a six-year ban from football over ethics violations.

The Swiss is now under a fresh investigation over alleged illicit salaries and bonuses totaling US$80 million, Fifa's ethics committee said in September.