Corruption scandal in Latin America takes shine off Copa America

Thu Jun 11, 2015 8:32am EDT
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By Rosalba O'Brien

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - It should be South America's showpiece soccer tournament. Instead the Copa America kicks off in Chile on Thursday as a widening U.S.-led investigation lifts the lid on rampant corruption among the sport's top officials.

The probe has exposed a criminal enterprise running from racketeering and bribery to wire fraud and money laundering, and the list of suspects now facing extradition to the United States reads like a who's who of Latin America's soccer establishment.

On the field, stars like Argentina's Lionel Messi, Brazil's Neymar and Colombia's James Rodriguez are sure to provide enough magic to keep fans happy.

But the scandal has damaged soccer's reputation in a region widely seen as its spiritual home and the cradle of many of its greatest players.

"Unfortunately our Copa America is stained by these events which have little to do with soccer," Sergio Jadue, who heads Chile's soccer federation.

Four years ago, when Argentina hosted the tournament, Nicolas Leoz ruled over South America's CONMEBOL soccer confederation, even securing legal immunity for the body's headquarters in Paraguay. Today, he is under house arrest in an upmarket neighborhood of Asuncion.

Eugenio Figueredo, a FIFA vice president, was Leoz's deputy in 2011. He and Rafael Esquivel, the sport's boss in Venezuela, were among seven people arrested when Swiss police swooped on a hotel in Zurich on May 27.

So too was Jose Maria Marin, Brazil's former soccer chief.   Continued...