Costa Rica News – The lawyer for Eduardo Li, president of Costa Rica’s Football Federation and a CONCACAF and FIFA executive committee member, has described the case against his client as a “legal absurdity” saying there is no evidence his client took bribes or participated in a criminal enterprise. Li was picked up in the Swiss police swoop on FIFA executives prior to the congress in Zurich last month.
The US indictment claims that Li “together with others, did knowingly and intentionally devise a scheme and artifice to defraud FIFA, CONCACAF, and FEDEFUT and their constituent organizations, including to deprive FIFA, CONCACAF, and FEDEFUT and their constituent organizations of their respective rights to honest and faithful services through bribes and kickbacks, and to obtain money and property by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises.”
The indictment then claims that to execute this scheme did “together with others” organise the “Wire transfer of $27,500 from Traffic USA’s account at Citibank in Miami, Florida, to a Wells Fargo correspondent account in New York, New York, for credit to an account in the name of Federación Costarricense de Futbol at Banco Lafise in Costa Rica.”
The indictment also accuses Li of requesting and accepting a “six-figure bribe” from Traffic in exchange for agreeing to award Traffic media rights for World Cup matches, an accusation which seems to be at least partly based on the testimony of an unnamed Traffic executive, who is now presumably cooperating with US prosecutors.
Li’s attorney in Costa Rica, Jose Miguel Villalobos, who is in contact with Li’s Swiss representatives said his client was fighting extradition because he is guilty of no crime and that he is not in negotiations with US prosecutors.
Villalobos has said that US prosecutors either misunderstand how Costa Rica football works, by incorrectly assuming the national football federation accounts are the same as Li’s personal accounts, or are unfairly trying to pressure his client to lie and implicate others.
FEDEFÚTBOL has stuck by Li, showing local authorities a copy of the agreement signed between Li and Traffic on behalf of the federation. Acting President Jorge Hidalgo has said that the $27,500 was part of a regular payment made by Traffic Sports USA to FEDEFÚTBOL according to the contract negotiated by Li granting the company exclusive broadcast rights to Sele games leading up to the 2018 World Cup.
“This is neither a bribe nor has the Federation issued a check to Eduardo,” Hidalgo told local media, adding, “It’s obvious that the American authorities were mistaken.”
Unfortunately for Li, US prosecutors, who effectively act as judge and jury in most cases (with only 3% of cases going to trial), work by “persuading” defendants to admit guilt or implicate others in return for far more lenient sentences than they would receive if they refused to cooperate and went to trial in a bid to maintain innocence. This being one of the reasons that many thousands of US prisoners and up to 4% of those on death row are widely considered to be innocent.
The US does have an extradition treaty with Switzerland and, with the arrests, has already proved that it can exercise serious political muscle in the country. Those arrested can be held for 40 days before they go before a Swiss court for an extradition hearing. At which point evidence will have to be produced proving there are legal grounds for extradition.
By Mark Baber, From Inside Football