FIFA Former Venezuelan football leader pleads guilty in scandal

Rafael Esquivel pled guilty to seven counts of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies.

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Former Venezuela football federation president, Rafael Esquivel (R) leaves on bail from the Brooklyn federal court next to his son Oscar in New York on March 10, 2016 play

Former Venezuela football federation president, Rafael Esquivel (R) leaves on bail from the Brooklyn federal court next to his son Oscar in New York on March 10, 2016

(AFP/File)
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A former president of Venezuela's football federation pleaded guilty Thursday over the massive FIFA corruption scandal, eight months after posting a $7 million bond and professing his innocence.

Rafael Esquivel, 70, also a former vice president of the South American Football Confederation, pled guilty to seven counts of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies.

He also agreed to forfeit more than $16 million, as part of his plea in a US federal court in Brooklyn, New York.

The charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years for each count.

Esquivel obtained millions dollars in bribes linked to awarding sports marketing contracts associated with the Copa America tournament, prosecutors said.

He was arrested in Zurich in May 2015 as part of a US-led investigation into graft at football's world governing body.

Esquivel was extradited to the United States in March 2016 and placed under house arrest in Florida after pleading not guilty.

US prosecutors accused 40 officials and marketing executives of soliciting and receiving tens of millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks in a case that sparked an unprecedented crisis at FIFA.

Many have since pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for a possible reduction in sentence. Two companies were also accused.

Only five defendants are left under house arrest in the United States, facing a trial that a federal judge has recommended should begin in New York next fall.

The US investigation rocked FIFA to the core and ultimately led to the downfall of its former president, Sepp Blatter, who is serving a six-year ban from football over ethics violations.

Blatter is now under a fresh investigation over alleged illicit salaries and bonuses totaling $80 million, FIFA's ethics committee said in September.

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