Panama firm pleads guilty in FIFA corruption scandal

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From FIFA president, Joseph Blatter (left) and Eduardo Li, during a press conference of the FIFA Sub-17 Women’s competition. PHOTO:AFP

A Panamanian company importing and exporting football outfits pleaded guilty on Wednesday in New York to bribing the former president of Costa Rica’s football federation in another case in the expanding FIFA corruption scandal.

Mimo International Imports and Exports admitted fraud for having illicitly paid $500,000 to Eduardo Li, the ex-head of the Costa Rican federation who was arrested in 2015, the federal prosecutor’s office for Brooklyn said in a statement.

Li himself pleaded guilty to extortion and fraud in October 2016, leading to his life suspension from FIFA, the world governing body for soccer.

As part of its plea, Mimo International agreed to reimburse $500,000 to the Costa Rican federation, to pay a $900,000 fine, and to voluntary liquidate itself within three months, the prosecutor’s office said following a US federal court hearing.

The FBI agent who handled the case, Bill Sweeney, said his agency would spare no effort to stop criminal behavior sullying the sport of soccer.

According to the prosecutor’s statement, Mimo International and Li signed a 2012 contract under which the Panamanian firm would sponsor the Costa Rican federation and provide football outfits for six years.

But in 2014, Mimo International offered $500,000 to Li to break the contract so that it could demand millions of dollars in compensation.

The FIFA scandal broke open in May 2015 with the arrests in Switzerland of eight senior football executives during a Zurich congress.

It quickly rippled through Latin America, and further details emerged with the New York trial of three South American former officials in late 2017.

Two of the executives, former Brazilian federation boss Jose Maria Marin, and former Paraguayan federation chief Juan Angel Napout, were convicted. Sentencing will take place in April.

The third, former Peruvian federation president Manuel Burga, was acquitted.

In all, 42 football executives have been indicted in the US justice system.

Most of them are South Americans, but there were also some Americans, such as Chuck Blazer, a former administrator turned FBI informer who died of cancer in July last year.