RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) - Marco Polo del Nero was suspended as president of Brazil’s soccer confederation on Friday, two years after he was indicted in the United States on charges of racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy.
FIFA said Del Nero was under an ethics investigation and has been banned for 90 days from all soccer activities.
Del Nero fled Zurich in May 2015 when other FIFA colleagues were arrested. They included Jose Maria Marin, who was at the time the head of the Brazilian confederation, known as the CBF. Marin and two other South American soccer officials have been on trial in New York. Del Nero was indicted on Dec. 2, 2015.
“As many Brazilians that love soccer, my hope is that he is banned for good,” soccer great Romario - now a Brazilian federal senator - wrote on his Facebook page.
“Del Nero has already had his crimes exposed along with those of other crooks like Jose Maria Marin, who is in jail in the United States, and (former CBF president) Ricardo Teixeira who is still on the loose in Brazil. They all used CBF to get illegally rich.”
Del Nero’s lawyers said in a statement that he is going to appeal FIFA’s suspension. They insisted there was no evidence against him.
The attorneys labelled the ethics committee report “funny investigative speculations.” They argued Del Nero took office as CBF president in 2015 and should not be linked to contracts from previous administrations.
FIFA failed to ban Del Nero until Friday. FIFA President Gianni Infantino has been questioned about him in recent days.
Infantino was photographed at last year’s Olympics receiving a Brazilian soccer shirt from Del Nero, and reporters questioned him about Del Nero at the World Cup draw this month in Moscow.
“So whatever comes out of these trials, we will deal with it,” Infantino said of the U.S. investigation. “We have ethics committees, disciplinary committees. They will deal with these questions. It’s not for the FIFA president to deal with them. We have institutions for that.”
Del Nero has not traveled from Brazil for several years, fearing arrest and extradition to the United States. Brazil has an extradition treaty with the U.S. but seldom sends its own citizens abroad for trial.
Brazil’s team is among the favorites to win next year’s World Cup, but many doubt Del Nero will go there to support the team.
The CBF appointed vice president Antonio Carlos Nunes to fill in for Del Nero and did not offer an immediate comment on Del Nero’s suspension.
Brazilian law does not ban private or commercial corruption. There needs to be a government body or official involved, or taxpayer money.
Carlos Nuzman, the head of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, was arrested two months ago in Brazil, partly for trying to hamper an investigation into his Brazilian tax declaration. He was eventually charged with money laundering and running a criminal organization.
Brazilian and French authorities say Nuzman helped channel $2 million in bribes to help win votes from International Olympic Committee members to stage the 2016 Olympics.
Del Nero’s name has come up in the U.S. corruption trial.
Prosecution witness Jose Hawilla, a Brazilian sports marketing executive, testified Del Nero was among top South American soccer officials who needed to be bribed to secure media contracts to tournaments.
In one taped conversation, jurors heard Hawilla in an exchange talk about a $900,000 payment apparently owed to Del Nero or Marin.
Del Nero has also been openly criticized by Brazil coach Tite, who is credited with making the team a World Cup favorite.
Tite signed an open letter opposing Del Nero before Tite was hired as coach last year. Since then, he has softened his stance but still opposes Del Nero.
“This is the best way I can contribute to soccer, offering what I know,” he said after being hired as coach. “The ideas of transparency and democratization remain as my principles.”
Savarese reported from Sao Paulo.
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