Spanish ex-football chief Rubiales arrested at airport over alleged federation graft scandal

By AFP   April 3, 2024 | 05:07 pm PT
Spanish ex-football chief Rubiales arrested at airport over alleged federation graft scandal
Spain's Jennifer Hermoso celebrates with Luis Rubiales after the Women's World Cup victory on Aug. 20, 2023. Photo by Reuters/Hannah Mckay
Spanish police on Wednesday briefly arrested disgraced ex-football chief Luis Rubiales in connection with an alleged graft scandal at the RFEF football federation when he was president.

The 46-year-old was detained at Madrid's Barajas airport shortly after flying in from the Dominican Republic but released shortly afterwards, a Guardia Civil police spokesman said.

Sources close to the probe said he disembarked from the plane under a police escort before being questioned inside the airport.

His arrest came two weeks after investigators searched 11 locations, including the RFEF's Madrid headquarters and Rubiales' house in the southern city of Granada, as part of a probe into alleged corruption and other crimes.

The March 20 raids were part of "an investigation linked to presumed crimes linked with corruption in business, fraudulent administration and money laundering", judicial sources said.

Spanish media reports said investigators were looking into RFEF contracts signed since 2018, including one signed by Rubiales to take the Spanish Super Cup to Saudi Arabia.

The Super Cup contracts are worth 40 million euros a year ($43.3 million) with the deal brokered by Kosmos, a company owned by former Barcelona and Spain defender Gerard Pique.

According to Cadena Ser radio, Guardia Civil police flew to the Dominican Republic and on Monday searched the premises where Rubiales has been staying, seizing a laptop and a mobile phone following an order by the investigating judge.

Contacted by AFP, the Guardia Civil refused to comment on the report.

A day after the March 20 raids, the RFEF sacked its legal director Pedro Gonzalez Segura, head of human resources Jose Javier Jimenez and terminated its contract with GC Legal, the law firm of the federation's external legal adviser Tomas Gonzalez Cueto.

All three had been arrested by police during the raids.

'Work and savings'

Rubiales was forced to step down as RFEF boss last September after forcibly kissing Women's World Cup star Jenni Hermoso following Spain's triumph in the Sydney final in August.

The move sparked global outrage, with Rubiales set to be tried for the non-consensual kiss which under Spanish law can be classed as sexual assault.

In 2022, prosecutors opened an investigation into the Super Cup deal after audio recordings in which Rubiales and Pique spoke of multi-million value commissions were leaked.

Rubiales has always defended the legality of the deal to take the Super Cup to the oil-rich Gulf state, and in April 2022, Pique insisted that everything was "legal", saying he was "proud" of the deal.

In an interview recorded the day before his arrest and broadcast late Wednesday, Rubiales denied any wrongdoing.

"I have never collected a bribe in my life. Ever," he said. "All the money in my bank accounts is the result of my work and my savings."

Rubiales also said he has never "rigged a contract", and reiterated that the transfer of the Spanish Super Cup to Saudi Arabia was done because it was "the best offer".

'Clear conscience'

The Spanish Super Cup took place for the first time in Saudi Arabia in 2020.

It returned to Spain a year later due to the Covid-19 pandemic but the subsequent three competitions have taken place in Saudi.

Pique had played twice with Barcelona in Spanish Super Cups in Saudi Arabia before retiring from football in November 2022.

Rubiales also told La Sexta he could not understand how the kiss he gave Hermoso could be labelled as sexual assault, saying there was "no sexual context" to it.

He denied accusations that he and other RFEF officials coerced Hermoso by pressuring her to speak out in his defense after the scandal erupted.

"I have a clear conscience, things have been blown out of proportion," Rubiales said.

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