- Associated Press - Monday, December 7, 2015

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) - Marco Polo del Nero, the embattled president of the Brazilian soccer federation, started his 150-day leave of absence on Monday to prepare his defense against wide-ranging corruption charges.

A spokesman for the Brazilian Football Confederation in Rio de Janeiro said Monday that Del Nero could extend the 150-day leave at least once.

The pressure mounted Sunday for Del Nero to resign as hundreds of players from across the country folded their arms across their chests in protest, standing motionless for 15 seconds before the final round of games to end the season.

“Del Nero must go - now,” the player group “Common Sense FC” said on its Twitter account. “We want clean elections.”

Del Nero was one of 16 soccer officials indicted last week by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Just hours after the indictments were unsealed, Del Nero announced he was taking a temporary leave of absence to arrange his defense on charges that include racketeering and money laundering. He selected CBF vice president Marcus Antonio Vicente to replace him.

The investigation by American and Swiss officials has snared the last three presidents of the CBF, all of whom have been indicted: Del Nero and his predecessors Jose Maria Marin and Ricardo Teixeira.

All three were key organizers of last year’s World Cup in Brazil.

Marin was among the seven soccer leaders arrested in a raid in May in a Zurich hotel.

Del Nero was in Switzerland at the time, but left the country almost immediately to return to Brazil.

American officials will have a difficult time getting their hands on Teixeira and Del Nero. While the U.S. and Brazil have an extradition treaty dating back to the 1960s, Brazil has a long history of not extraditing its own citizens to other nations.

Two week ago Del Nero was forced to step down from FIFA’s executive committee. CBF vice president Fernando Sarney was announced to take his place.

Del Nero is also expected to be banned for 90 days from all football activity by the FIFA ethics committee.

Brazil’s attorney general has said he may request documents from American officials, which could be used to help prosecute Del Nero at home.

The national senate is also conducting a corruption investigation again Del Nero, a probe headed by former Brazil and Barcelona star Romario, who is now a national senator.

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Mauricio Savarese contributed to this report.

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Stephen Wade on Twitter: http://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP

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