Nicaraguan ex-FIFA official pleads not guilty in U.S. bribery case

By Reuters/Nate Raymond, Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi   May 18, 2016 | 06:25 pm PT
A former FIFA official from Nicaragua who was responsible for overseeing the soccer governing body's development efforts in Central America pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to U.S. charges stemming from a wide-ranging bribery investigation.

Julio Rocha, who is also a former president of the Nicaraguan soccer federation, pleaded not guilty in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, to charges including racketeering conspiracy, money laundering and wire fraud.

He was extradited from Switzerland earlier in the day, the country's Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) said. William Sullivan, Rocha's lawyer, confirmed his client's extradition.

Following a court hearing, Rocha was released on a $1.5 million bond and placed under home detention, according to a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Brooklyn, which is overseeing the case.

Rocha is among 42 individuals and entities charged as part of a U.S. investigation into more than $200 million in bribes and kickbacks sought by soccer officials for marketing and broadcast rights to tournaments and matches.

He was one of seven soccer officials arrested at a Zurich hotel in May 2015 as part of the investigation, which has sent Switzerland-based FIFA and other governing bodies into crisis.

To date, 15 people and two corporate entities have pleaded guilty.

The Swiss Federal Court this month cleared the way for Rocha's extradition after rejecting his appeal to be sent to his home country, where he faced separate charges.

Rocha was president of the Nicaraguan soccer federation, the Federacion Nicaraguense de Futbol, until 2012, and was president of the Central American Football Union from 2003 to 2007. He became a FIFA development officer based in Panama in 2013.

The indictment alleged that beginning in 2007, an executive at Brazilian sports marketing firm Traffic Group's Miami unit agreed to pay bribes to four soccer federations' presidents to obtain contracts from their organizations.

Those presidents included Rocha, who in 2011 began negotiating with the executive to renew worldwide commercial rights to exploit the Nicaraguan soccer federation's rights to 2018 World Cup qualifier matches, the indictment said.

During the talks, Rocha sought a six-figure bribe, the indictment said. In May 2011, executives from sports marketing agency Traffic Sports directed $150,000 be wired to an account held by an intermediary, $100,000 of which was for Rocha, the indictment said.

He continued to seek bribes even after stepping down as the federation's president in 2012, the indictment said. 

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