International

FIFA ex-vice president pleads not guilty

2016-01-14 07:01
Alfredo Hawit (Supplied)

New York - A Honduran former FIFA vice president pleaded not guilty in New York on Wednesday just hours after being extradited from Switzerland over the FIFA corruption scandal rocking world football.

Alfredo Hawit, 64, who has been suspended by FIFA from all football activities, is a former president of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (Concacaf).

He is one of 39 officials and marketing executives accused of soliciting and receiving tens of millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks in a case that has sparked unprecedented crisis at FIFA.

Hawit entered a plea of not guilty through his lawyer. He faces 12 counts of racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to obstruct justice and tamper with witnesses.

The defendant, wearing a suit, looked pale and ill, and stood slightly stooped before Magistrate Judge Robert Levy in the federal court in Brooklyn, following the proceedings through a court-appointed interpreter.

His lawyer Justin Weddle told the court that he suffers from pancreatitis and had spent time in intensive care following a severe bout. He is also diabetic, Weddle said.

Hawit has "serious digestive problems" and requires a no-fat diet, which was not provided in his Swiss prison, where he subsisted on cornflakes and honey bought from the jail commissariat, the lawyer said.

Prosecutors described Hawit as a significant flight risk and demanded that bail be posted at $4 million -- guaranteed by either $500 000 in cash or US property.

Weddle asked that Hawit be released to home detention with electronic monitoring at his daughter's house in Miami, Florida, without financial guarantee. The Hawits, he argued, were of limited means.

Hawit's wife and three sons live in Honduras, where the marital home is in his wife's name.

If released, Hawit would have to surrender his passport and agree not to communicate with any co-defendants or any of the entities mentioned in the indictment.

The Honduran will next appear before Levy on Thursday 23:30, when conditions for bail will be discussed further.

US prosecutors allege that Hawit accepted and laundered hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes as general secretary of the Honduran soccer federation between 2008 and 2014.

He was arrested in Zurich on December 3. Swiss authorities announced on January 6 that he had agreed to be sent to the United States.

Hawit is the fifth FIFA official extradited by Switzerland to the United States in connection with the deepening multi-million-dollar corruption scandal that has rocked world soccer since May.

Prosecutors in New York accuse him of accepting millions of dollars in bribes in connection with the sale to various sports marketing firms of marketing rights to football tournaments in Latin America.

The US corruption investigation precipitated the downfall of longtime FIFA president Sepp Blatter and his former heir apparent, Michel Platini, both suspended by FIFA judges for eight years over ethics violations.

Nine FIFA officials were arrested in Switzerland during two raids at a five-star hotel in Zurich, on May 27 and December 3.

Five of them have since been extradited to the United States, including former FIFA president Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands, who has since pleaded guilty and is to be sentenced in June.

Switzerland extradited a sixth suspect, the former president of South American confederation Conmebol, Eugenio Figueredo, to his home country of Uruguay.

At least 13 other suspects are fighting extradition to the United States, including four from Argentina, three from Switzerland and former FIFA vice president Jack Warner from Trinidad and Tobago.

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