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A former president of the Central American nation of Honduras, Rafael Callejas, pled guilty on Monday in a United States federal court on conspiracy charges connected to the ongoing FIFA corruption investigations spearheaded by US and Swiss authorities.
Callejas (full name Rafael Leonardo Callejas Romero) is perhaps the highest-ranking political official to be ensnared to date in the unfolding FIFA corruption net. Callejas served as Honduras’s president from 1990 to 1994 before becoming a full-time football official. Callejas eventually became president, in 2002, of the Federación Nacional Autónoma de Fútbol de Honduras (FENAFUTH); FENAFUTH in turn is a long-standing member of CONCACAF, FIFA’s governing body for football in the Americas.
Callejas was among the FIFA-connected officials charged in a second wave of US-brought indictments last year, and his plea deal was approved in principle late last week before being formally filed on Monday in New York. Callejas, now 72, pled guilty on charges of racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy. He agreed to pay a $650,000 fine and faces a possible prison term of up to 40 years, though it’s highly unlikely that he’ll face a sentence that severe. The separate sentencing hearing will be held in August.
“I knew it was wrong for me to ask for and to accept such undisclosed payments,” said Callejas to federal U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert M. Levy. “Bribe payments totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars were sent to a bank account I controlled,” he added, before the judge.
To date, 42 individuals and a handful of corporate entities have been charged in the ongoing probes into FIFAs global bribery schemes. In the US portion of the case, Callejas is the 14th individual defendant to plead guilty. Callejas admitted to be an active part of a bribery scheme involving a Florida (US) sports-marketing company called Media World, which received broadcasting rights to Honduran World Cup qualifiers in 2014, 2018 and 2022.
In return, Callejas and another co-defendant enjoyed personal enrichment, with enough left over to spread downward through the Honduran football hierarchy to strengthen their own positions of power. The US portion of the FIFA corruption probe alone has identified more than $200 million in bribery-related payments, which have stretched to the very top of FIFA and resulted in the forced resignation of FIFAs long-time president, Sepp Blatter.
Speaking of Blatter, hes been in the news quite a bit of late. Just a couple of weeks ago, it was revealed that he was paid nearly £2.6 million by FIFA as his annual salary in 2015, the first time FIFA released such data. Given that level of historic compensation along with any presumptive bribes the man may have accepted, its clear the man has likely amassed a fortune of tens of millions of whatever major denomination one chooses.
Blatter has also accepted a formal invitation to attend the 2018 World Cup in Russia as a personal guest of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which will do exactly zero to dispel the widespread allegations that Russia may have paid a massive bribe to FIFA to secure the ’18 WC.
Nor has Blatter sat by idly while a separate Swiss investigation into his own bribery case continues. Blatter has already filed an appeal of his more-or-less permanent FIFA suspension, and regardless of whether hes officially part of FIFA, it appears that the rotted king acorn hasn’t fallen too far from the ol’ oak tree. The first big endorsement deal signed by FIFA under the aegis of new president Gianni Infantino was with Chinese conglomerate Wanda Group, and the CEO of Wanda’s new Wanda Sports Holding is one Philippe Blatter — Sepp’s nephew.
Infantino’s installation as FIFA’s president did little to quell claims that it was (corruption) business as usual at FIFA, and few events then have changed most of the globe’s opinion of the organization.
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