Argentina judge orders arrest of executives in FIFA scandal

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - An Argentine judge said on Thursday he had ordered the arrest of three businessmen named in a corruption scandal engulfing world soccer and facing U.S. extradition requests, though he acknowledged he did not know if they were in the country.

The logo of soccer's international governing body FIFA is seen on its headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, May 27, 2015. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

Alejandro Burzaco, Hugo Jinkis and his son Mariano Jinkis, all Argentine citizens, are among five defendants who have apparently not been detained or arrested a day after the U.S. Department of Justice named them as among those facing corruption charges.

The U.S. Justice Department alleges that Burzaco, Hugo Jinkis and his son conspired to win and keep hold of lucrative media rights contracts from regional soccer federations through the payment of up to $110 million in bribes.

To date, at least $40 million in bribes had been paid by the three to soccer officials, including five defendants also facing charges, the U.S. Justice Department’s indictment said.

The three are among nine football officials and five sports media and promotions executives hit with U.S. corruption charges involving more than $150 million in bribes. Swiss police arrested seven of the senior soccer officials on Wednesday, plunging FIFA into its worst crisis in its 111-year history.

Of the remaining seven, two have been detained. Former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner surrendered to police in Trinidad and Tobago on Wednesday. Aaron Davidson, the U.S. head of Brazilian sports marketing firm Traffic Group, was arrested in Miami by the FBI on Wednesday.

U.S. officials are trying to extradite the defendants who remain outside the United States.

Among those named in the indictment who are still at large is Brazilian citizen Jose Margulies, who headed two offshore companies that were involved in the broadcasting of soccer matches. Margulies told a Brazilian radio station he was on holiday in Germany and had not been contacted by U.S. Justice Department.

Paraguayan officials on Thursday said they were examining the U.S. extradition request for 86-year-old Nicolas Leoz, ex president of the South American soccer confederation, CONMEBOL. Leoz had been receiving treatment for hypertension on Wednesday and was in a stable condition, a doctor treating him said.

Burzaco is president of Argentine sports marketing firm Torneos y Competencias (Torneos), while Hugo and Mariano Jinkis are controlling principals of Full Play, another sports media and marketing business headquartered in Argentina.

“There is an arrest warrant for extradition,” federal judge Marcelo Martinez de Giorgi told local TV channel TN.

The indictment states that Burzaco and the Jinkis’s led their companies to form a new entity known as Datisa.

Datisa entered into a $317.5 million contract with CONMEBOL to obtain exclusive worldwide rights to the 2015, 2019 and 2023 Copa America tournaments, according to the indictment.

Datisa later entered into a $35 million contract with the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football, CONCACAF, to acquire rights for another tournament, the Copa America Centenario.

Torneos on Wednesday denied any involvement in corrupt schemes to win contracts and said it was willing to work with judicial authorities.

Full Play did not immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment on the U.S. allegations. Attempts to reach the three indicted men through the companies were unsuccessful.

Torneos has long been a powerful force in sports media in the South American country.

Argentina’s Cabinet Chief Anibal Fernandez said the country’s tax authority would pursue any money owed to it.

“Illegal acts also pay taxes and in this case if it is proven that kickbacks were paid then they will have to pay an income tax of 35 percent,” Fernandez said.

Editing by Kieran Murray and Stuart Grudgings