SAO PAULO (Reuters) - A Brazilian broadcast executive accused of sending bribes to senior soccer officials has returned to Brazil, where he is preparing to fight extradition to the United States on racketeering and wire fraud charges, his lawyer said on Tuesday.
Jose Margulies, 75, a naturalized Brazilian citizen, was one of 14 defendants indicted by U.S. prosecutors in charges unsealed on May 27, rocking soccer’s global governing body FIFA and the regional confederations in the Americas, in the sports biggest corruption scandal ever.
Earlier that day, Swiss authorities arrested seven soccer officials who were attending FIFA’s annual Congress. Other current or former officials and executives who are among those indicted have been arrested in the U.S., Italy, Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago.
Margulies and two Argentine sports marketing executives are the only three defendants indicted in the United States who have not been arrested.
A Brazilian attorney for Margulies, Jair Jaloreto, told Reuters in a telephone interview that his client came to Brazil from Germany over a week ago. He said Margulies was not commenting on the U.S. charges.
Jaloreto has already filed a motion with Brazil’s Supreme Court contesting any extradition. Brazil’s constitution forbids the extradition of naturalized citizens unless they are charged with drug trafficking or crimes prior to their naturalization.
Margulies was born in Argentina and naturalized as a Brazilian citizen in 1973. A Supreme Court judge turned down Jaloreto’s motion last week because there was not yet an active extradition process targeting Margulies in Brazil.
Margulies is at the top of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Most Wanted list for criminal enterprises.
The FBI “Wanted” poster for Margulies says he “should be considered an international flight risk” and he may travel to Brazil, Argentina, the Czech Republic or Germany on a Brazilian, Argentine or Polish passport.
U.S. prosecutors accuse him of operating companies in Panama and the Turks and Caicos Islands that served as intermediaries to facilitate and conceal bribery payments between sports marketing companies and senior soccer officials.
“He used the services of currency dealers, he regularly shredded records of his activities, and he discouraged soccer officials who were receiving payments from using accounts in their own names lest they draw attention from law enforcement,” the indictment stated.
In a five-year period through March 2008, for instance, Margulies wired more than $3.5 million into the accounts of senior Venezuelan, Paraguayan and Uruguayan soccer officials, according to prosecutors.
Editing by Mary Milliken and Martin Howell