December 16, 2015 / 12:02 PM / 4 years ago

Ex-Honduran president pleads not guilty in U.S. in FIFA bribe case

Dec 16 - Former Honduras president and soccer official Rafael Callejas pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to charges stemming from what U.S. prosecutors say was a multimillion-dollar bribery scheme at FIFA and other soccer governing bodies.

Callejas, who is a former president of the Honduran soccer federation and who has served on FIFA’s marketing and television committee, entered his plea in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, about two weeks after he was indicted.

Callejas, 72, is one of dozens of soccer officials charged by U.S. authorities investigating corruption in the sport.

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Another defendant in the soccer investigation, suspended FIFA Vice President Juan Angel Napout, was scheduled to appear in the same court later on Tuesday. Napout was president of the South American soccer confederation CONMEBOL.

Soccer bosses from South and Central America, including Callejas, were among 16 people charged on Dec. 3 for engaging in schemes involving over $200 million in bribes and kickbacks sought for marketing and broadcast rights to tournaments and matches.

In total, 41 individuals and entities have been charged in the United States in a corruption sweep that has rocked soccer worldwide and sent FIFA into an unprecedented crisis.

Callejas, who served as Honduran president from 1990 to 1994, flew to the United States on Monday to face the charges. He has said he bore no responsibility for any of the accusations and was ready to defend himself.

According to the indictment, in 2012, Media World, an affiliate of Spanish media company Imagina Group, agreed to pay $600,000 in bribes to Callejas, then president of the Honduran soccer federation FENAFUTH, and Alfredo Hawit, its general secretary.

The goal, according to the indictment, was to obtain a contract for media and marketing rights for qualifier matches to be played ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

Media World also paid bribes to Callejas and Hawit to obtain rights owned by FENAFUTH to its 2014 and 2018 World Cup qualifier matches, the indictment said.

Hawit at the time of his indictment was a FIFA executive Committee member and president of the CONCACAF confederation that runs the sport in North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

Hawit, 64, was arrested by Swiss authorities when the latest charges were announced.

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