December 15, 2015 / 8:10 PM / 3 years ago

Two soccer officials plead not guilty in FIFA bribe case

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two soccer bosses including a former president of Honduras pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to U.S. charges they took bribes in exchange for media and marketing contracts in a scandal that has rocked the business of global soccer.

Rafael Callejas, a former Honduran soccer federation chief, attends an interview with Reuters in his office in Tegucigalpa, Honduras December 3, 2015. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera

Rafael Callejas, who was president of Honduras from 1990 to 1994 and later became president of its soccer federation, flashed a thumbs-up to someone in the audience as he left a hearing in federal court in Brooklyn, New York.

Juan Angel Napout, a Paraguayan and former president of the South American confederation CONMEBOL, pleaded not guilty at a separate hearing.

The two came to the United States voluntarily after their indictment on bribery charges was unsealed on Dec. 3. They are among 41 people and entities charged in a U.S. corruption sweep that has sent soccer’s world governing body FIFA into an unprecedented crisis.

The 72-year-old Callejas, who has served on a FIFA committee, did not immediately seek release on bail. He has said he bore no responsibility for the accusations and was ready to defend himself.

Callejas is charged with taking bribes from Media World, an affiliate of Spain’s Imagina Group, so that the company could obtain media and marketing rights for qualifier matches ahead of the 2014, 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments.

Imagina has said it would cooperate fully with U.S. authorities. It suspended the chief executive of Media World and another employee.

A magistrate judge approved a $20 million bond package that cleared the way for Napout’s release to home detention with 24-hour security and video surveillance. Napout, 57, quit CONMEBOL last week and was suspended from his position as a FIFA vice president.

Napout is charged with soliciting bribe payments from two sports marketing firms to secure his support for awarding commercial rights to soccer tournaments including the popular Copa Libertadores.

In parallel investigations, Swiss and U.S. authorities are focusing on whether business contracts and the World Cup hosting rights for 2018 in Russia and 2022 in Qatar were won with the help of bribery.

The schemes described in the Dec. 3 indictment involved over $200 million in bribes and kickbacks sought for marketing and broadcast rights to tournaments and matches.

Of the 41 defendants, 14 have pleaded guilty. At least four others including Callejas and Napout are in the United States. The rest are in various stages of extradition proceedings.

Reporting by Nate Raymond and David Ingram; Editing by Bill Rigby, Andrew Hay and Lisa Shumaker

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