Ex-marketing executive pleads guilty in U.S. bribery probe of FIFA

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former sports marketing executive arrested last year during a U.S. corruption probe involving soccer’s global governing body FIFA pleaded guilty on Thursday to participating in schemes to pay bribes to a top official.

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Aaron Davidson, former president of the Miami-based unit of Brazilian sports marketing conglomerate Traffic Group, entered his plea in federal court in Brooklyn to charges of racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy.

Davidson, who also agreed to forfeit $507,900, is one of 42 individuals and entities charged as part of a U.S. investigation that upended Zurich-based FIFA and the soccer world, and one of 18 people and two companies to plead guilty.

Prosecutors said the defendants engaged in schemes involving more than $200 million in bribes and kickbacks that were sought and received by soccer officials for marketing and broadcasting rights to tournaments and matches.

In court, Davidson, 45, admitted he participated in schemes to direct $14.1 million in bribes to Jeffrey Webb, a former FIFA vice president and president of CONCACAF, the governing body for soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean.

“I knew that Mr. Webb was using his position of authority and trust to enrich himself personally, and I understood that he was doing so without the knowledge of the organizations he represented or was affiliated with,” Davidson said.

Some of the bribes, he said, were paid to land the media and marketing rights for the Caribbean Football Union’s 2018 and 2022 World Cup qualifier matches along with CONCACAF’s 2013 Gold Cup and the two seasons of its Champions League tournaments.

Davidson said he also assisted in 2013 in making a $10 million bribe payment to Webb so a company that Traffic had an interest in could obtain rights to the Copa America Centenario, which was hosted by the United States in June.

Davidson said he participated in the schemes with Jose Hawilla, the Brazilian founder of Traffic, who secretly pleaded guilty in 2014 and agreed to cooperate in the investigation.

Webb was arrested in May 2015 and pleaded guilty last November.

Reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Tom Brown and Grant McCool