South American soccer HQ could face raids if new law passes

Sun Jun 7, 2015 4:12pm EDT
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By Daniela Desantis

ASUNCION (Reuters) - Lawmakers across Paraguay's political divide are urging senators to approve stripping the headquarters of South American football of its legal immunity, a status that spotlights how soccer's global governing body FIFA has often been able to skirt legally around national laws.

A draft bill to remove the immunity was put to Congress in late May, days after U.S. authorities indicted 14 past and present senior soccer officials and sports media executives on a series of corruption charges, including bribery and money laundering. FIFA President Sepp Blatter announced his resignation last week as the investigation of FIFA and its affiliates continued to widen.

Among those indicted was Nicolas Leoz, a Paraguayan national and former president of CONMEBOL, the sport's governing organization in South America.

But if U.S. justice officials wanted Paraguayan authorities to raid the confederation's HQ in the hunt for evidence, they will have been disappointed up to now. The pseudo-diplomatic status granted to the complex by the government in 1997 means that police and prosecutors are prohibited from searching it.

CONMEBOL's home sprawls across the manicured grounds of a 98-acre (40-hectare) site on the outskirts of the Paraguayan capital, Asuncion, and boasts a luxury hotel and helipad.

The existing law provides legal immunity for the headquarters, although CONMEBOL's officials themselves do not enjoy the same personal legal immunity as diplomats and their private homes and offices are not covered.

As a former president of the body, Leoz had no more immunity than any other Paraguayan citizen and no longer occupied any offices covered by the existing law, his lawyer Ricardo Preda said. Preda has said his client maintains his innocence.

Supporters of the bill, which sped through the lower house of Congress last week, say they are confident it will win the Senate's backing because it is broadly popular. A vote in the senate could be held as early as Thursday.   Continued...

Journalists are reflected in a logo at the FIFA headquarters after a meeting of the executive committee in Zurich October 4, 2013.  REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/Files