BRASILIA (Reuters) – The head of Brazilian football, charged with corruption by U.S. prosecutors, stood his ground amid sometimes hostile questions in Congress on Wednesday, insisting he was not involved in the global scandal surrounding the sport.
“People can be indicted but they have the right to defend themselves and I am going to prove the American indictment is a big mistake,” Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) President Marco Polo Del Nero told senators.
“I have been unjustly accused,” he said at an inquiry into soccer-related corruption.
Del Nero was charged by U.S. prosecutors earlier this month with participating in schemes designed to solicit and receive millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks to sell media and marketing rights for football tournaments and matches.
His predecessor as CBF president, Jose Maria Marin, is in jail awaiting trial on similar charges and Ricardo Teixeira, another former president of the CBF from 1989 to 2012 and a former FIFA executive committee member, was also charged.
Del Nero has taken a leave of absence from his post to defend himself from the accusations, which form part of a worldwide investigation into corruption in football. So far, 41 people and entities, most of them from Latin America, have been arrested or indicted in the crackdown.
Quizzed over tax payments, flights and telephone calls that senators believe implicate him, Del Nero frequently said he did not remember.
“I would like to have as good a memory as you,” he told one questioner, Senator Randolfe Rodrigues.
“I think yours is selective,” Rodrigues replied.
Del Nero faced some senators who were openly friendly and others who were harshly aggressive. Romario, the former Barcelona striker turned politician, called him a liar and pointedly appealed for him to quit the country’s football body.
“I want to publicly ask you to leave the CBF so in the future we can have an honest CBF that is serious, not corrupt, and that can help our football, especially the national team,” Romario said.
“These acts by you, Ricardo Teixeira, Jose Maria Marin and your many allies have exhausted our football that I can now say is going through a ridiculous period both on and off the field.”
His appeal echoed a similar one made 24 hours earlier by some of the biggest names in Brazil.
Footballing legends Pele, Zico and Tostao, along with more than 100 others from the entertainment, media and business worlds, called for Del Nero to resign and for a thorough investigation into corruption to take place.
Del Nero was given a boost shortly before entering the chamber when an ally was elected to a key position.
The member federations and top clubs of the CBF overwhelmingly voted to elect 77-year old Antonio Carlos Nunes as vice president of the body. If Del Nero resigns, Nunes, as the oldest vice president, would take his place.
(Writing by Andrew Downie; Editing by Frances Kerry)