FIFA: Costa Rican ex-soccer boss pleads guilty to corruption charges

Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

NEW YORK (AP) The former head of the Costa Rican soccer federation pleaded guilty on Friday to conspiracy and other charges accusing him of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to award lucrative marketing contracts.

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Eduardo Li became the latest soccer official to plead guilty in a scandal that’s shaken FIFA, the sport’s governing body. It’s believed several of the officials are cooperating in the sprawling U.S. investigation.

Appearing in federal court in Brooklyn, the 57-year-old Li detailed through a Spanish interpreter several schemes in which he pocketed a fortune in under-the-table payments between 2007 and 2015 in exchange for using his authority to influence soccer-related business deals.

In one deal, Li said he was offered $500,000 to award marketing rights for qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup, scheduled to be held in Qatar. He said he ended up getting $300,000, which he channeled to the bank account of a business partner to pay a real estate debt.

In another, he said unnamed intermediaries in Panama gave him $237,000 in cash to give a U.S. company the rights to sponsor uniforms for the Costa Rican national team.

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“I knew it was wrong of me to accept such undisclosed payments,” Li told U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen.

Li also admitted embezzling $90,000 in funds related to hosting an international girls’ soccer tournament in Costa Rica.

He faces up to 20 years in prison but could receive much less time under sentencing guidelines. He has agreed to forfeit $668,000.

Li, who was arrested last year in Zurich, is among about 20 soccer officials indicted in the corruption case. More than a dozen have pleaded guilty, while another eight are fighting extradition from overseas.

No sentencing date was set for Li, who remains free on bail.