FIFA bans Brazilian official Del Nero for life for bribery

GENEVA — Brazilian soccer official Marco Polo del Nero was banned for life for bribery and corruption by the FIFA ethics committee on Friday.

FIFA said Del Nero, the former Brazilian Football Confederation president and one-time FIFA executive committee member, was also fined 1 million Swiss francs ($1 million).

Del Nero was indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2015 in its sprawling investigation of international soccer corruption, and accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes linked to broadcasting contracts of competitions.

The 77-year-old Del Nero has not been extradited from Brazil to face charges of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies. Brazil has an extradition treaty with the United States but rarely sends its citizens for trial.

His predecessors leading Brazilian soccer, Ricardo Teixeira and Jose Maria Marin, were also indicted on similar charges. Teixeira, once the son-in-law of former FIFA president Joao Havelange, has not been extradited. Marin is awaiting sentence after being found guilty in December.

Del Nero had fled from a FIFA election meeting in Zurich in May 2015 to return to Brazil when other FIFA colleagues were detained in a wave of arrests. Hours later, U.S. federal prosecutors unsealed the scope of their case.

Del Nero resigned from the FIFA ruling committee six months later, but continued to lead Brazil's body until being provisionally suspended by the FIFA ethics committee last December.

More than 40 soccer and marketing officials and marketing agencies have been convicted, are awaiting sentence after pleading guilty, or have been indicted in the case that has seen defendants agree to forfeit more than $200 million in criminal gains.

Del Nero's indictment was unsealed in December 2015 after a second round of arrests at the same five-star hotel in Zurich he had fled from.

Still, the FIFA ethics committee waited two more years before suspending him from office.

At the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, FIFA president Gianni Infantino visited the indicted Del Nero. Months earlier, FIFA had applied to U.S. authorities for almost $1.7 million in restitution from the final sum of forfeited funds to compensate for money it said Del Nero had cost the world football body.

Proven charges of unethical conduct against Del Nero included "bribery and corruption," ''offering and accepting gifts and other benefits," and conflicts of loyalty, FIFA said.

The case against him involved bribes related to the Copa America, Copa Libertadores and Brazil Cup.

In court in Brooklyn, prosecution witness Jose Hawilla, an influential Brazilian sports marketing executive, testified that Del Nero was among top South American soccer officials who had to be bribed to secure media contracts to tournaments.

Marin's lawyers argued their client was a clueless figurehead, saying Del Nero made the real decisions in Brazilian soccer.

Lawyers for Del Nero said there was no evidence against him. He can challenge the sanctions at FIFA's appeal committee, then the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

"Mr. Del Nero will appeal the decision and has the conviction that the punishment in a first instance will be reformed after the analysis of a court that is independent and not a subject of external interferences," legal firm Bichara and Motta said in a statement.

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Associated Press Writer Maurico Savarese in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report

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