Football: Ex-Conmebol VP Esquivel pleads not guilty in US court over Fifa graft scandal

The Fifa logo is seen outside the Fifa headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland.
The Fifa logo is seen outside the Fifa headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (AFP) - US prosecutors tightened the noose in the Fifa corruption scandal on Tuesday by hauling Venezuela's former football federation president before court in New York and extracting a guilty plea from a former match agent.

Rafael Esquivel, the former vice-president of the South American Football Confederation (Conmebol) who was extradited from Switzerland on Monday to face corruption charges, pleaded not guilty in a federal court in Brooklyn.

Esquivel, 69, was arrested in Zurich last May as part of a US-led investigation into corruption at world football's graft-tainted governing body Fifa.

He is accused of taking bribes worth several million dollars for the awarding of sports marketing contracts in connection with the Copa America and risks up to 20 years in prison in the United States.

In a brief hearing that lasted less than five minutes, his lawyer David Goldstein entered the not-guilty plea and told the judge it was "too early" to make a request for bail.

Before the same federal judge, a Colombian former Fifa match agent pleaded guilty to four counts of money laundering, wire fraud conspiracy and falsifying a tax return and was released on bail at US$1.5 million (S$2.08 million).

Miguel Trujillo, 65, paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to high-ranking Fifa and soccer officials in Central America and the Caribbean to secure media and marketing contracts, US prosecutors said.

Trujillo, a legal resident of the US, was based in Florida and was licensed by Fifa to negotiate and arrange matches between member associations.

"Are you pleading voluntarily?" asked US District Judge Raymond Dearie. "Yes," replied Trujillo.

He had not previously been named among dozens of officials and marketing executives indicted in the sweeping US corruption investigation.

Thirteen individuals have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with US prosecutors in the Fifa case in exchange for a possible reduction in sentence. Another 27 are currently awaiting trial.

In a separate Fifa-related hearing, another New York judge postponed granting house arrest to Eduardo Li, former president of the Costa Rican Football Federation, pending fulfillment of two bail conditions.

The 57-year-old Li, who will remain in jail for now, was arrested in Zurich last May at the outbreak of the swirling corruption scandal and was extradited to the US in December.

He faces charges that include fraud and money laundering. He denies wrongdoing.