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Ex-football boss in Americas pleads not guilty to U.S. bribery charges

Ex-football boss in Americas pleads not guilty to U.S. bribery charges

By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A former high-ranking football official in the Americas pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges in a multimillion-dollar bribery scheme at the heart of a U.S. investigation into corruption in the sport’s world governing body.

Alfredo Hawit of Honduras, a former FIFA vice president who also led the North and Central America and Caribbean confederation, CONCACAF, entered his plea in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, after being extradited from Switzerland.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Levy began considering bail for Hawit at the court hearing and will resume on Thursday. Hawit will be detained until then.

Hawit, 64, was among 41 people and entities charged in the U.S. and Swiss probe into football corruption spanning the globe, with federations in the Americas the hardest hit so far.

Twelve people and two sports marketing companies have pleaded guilty.

At Wednesday’s hearing, prosecutor Amanda Hector said Hawit should post a $4 million secured bond before being released, citing what she called his “significant” risk of flight and the high bail for other defendants.

Justin Weddle, Hawit’s lawyer, countered that a $1 million unsecured bond was enough, saying his client was neither wealthy nor a flight risk.

“This is not the type of person who can melt away and disappear,” Weddle said.

Corruption allegations prompted FIFA President Joseph “Sepp” Blatter’s decision to resign, only days after being re-elected to a fifth term.

Although Blatter has not been charged with a crime and has denied wrongdoing, FIFA banned him from football for eight years. European football boss Michel Platini, who had been favoured to succeed him, was also banned.

Hawit was arrested at a Zurich hotel on Dec. 3 along with South American football chief Juan Angel Napout.

They were among 16 people whom the U.S. Department of Justice accused that day of participating in schemes involving more than $200 million in bribes and kickbacks sought for marketing and broadcast rights to tournaments and matches.

The indictment said Hawit, who also led the Honduras football federation, participated in schemes to accept bribes from sports marketing companies.

It said two of these companies, Brazil’s Traffic Group and Argentina’s Full Play Group S.A., paid Hawit $250,000 in bribes in a failed bid to secure CONCACAF marketing rights.

Hawit and another official received $600,000 in bribes from Miami-based Media World, an affiliate of Spanish media company Imagina Group, in exchange for the rights to 2022 World Cup qualifier matches, the indictment said.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; editing by Grant McCool)

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