Unit of Spain's Imagina pleads guilty to bribing soccer officials

A sign on the offices of Imagina is shown in Miami, Florida December 3, 2015. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Florida-based unit of the Spanish sports media group Imagina on Tuesday pleaded guilty to charges of bribing Latin American soccer officials and was ordered to pay more than $24 million (£18.09 million), the latest penalty imposed in the sprawling U.S. investigation of corruption at world soccer’s governing body FIFA.

At a hearing before U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen, US Imagina LLC general counsel Erika Lucas said that beginning around 2008, the company bribed officials of the national soccer federations of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras and of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU). She said the company paid the bribes to secure media and marketing rights to qualifying matches for the 2014, 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Lucas also said that in 2012, Roger Huguet, a US Imagina executive, entered into an agreement with sports marketing company Traffic Group to split the cost of a bribe to Jeffrey Webb, then president of CONCACAF, which governs soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean. Lucas entered a guilty plea on behalf of the company to two counts of wire fraud conspiracy.

Chen ordered the company to pay a criminal fine of about $12.9 million, pay restitution to the soccer federations and CFU totalling about $6.6 million and to forfeit about $5.3 million in criminal proceeds.

The fine will be paid by the Spanish parent company, which has entered into an agreement to avoid prosecution, according to the office of U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue.

Under its plea deal with prosecutors, the company has agreed not to appeal the judgment.

“This resolution, which comes after Imagina’s extensive cooperation with the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation of the matter, enables Imagina to move forward as a stronger company,” Imagina said in a statement.

Huguet and another executive at Imagina, Fabio Tordin, pleaded guilty to U.S. charges in 2015 and were terminated by the company. Imagina said Tuesday that it had determined the misconduct was limited to Huguet, Tordin and a third former executive whom it did not name, and that it had taken “significant steps” to ensure compliance in the future.

Imagina is one of more than 40 entities and individuals charged by U.S. prosecutors in connection with the FIFA probe. The investigation has yielded more than two dozen guilty pleas and one trial of three former soccer officials, two of whom were found guilty by a jury.

Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by G Crosse and Bill Trott