U.S. prosecutors trumped by Uruguay in FIFA corruption case
By Mica Rosenberg
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A little-known criminal case in Uruguay is hindering U.S. efforts to prosecute a top official charged in the wide-reaching investigation into corruption at world soccer body FIFA.
In an unexpected turn of events, Swiss authorities on Christmas Eve extradited a former FIFA vice president Eugenio Figueredo, arrested in Zurich in May at the request of U.S. prosecutors, to his native Uruguay instead of to the United States.
The ruling is a setback for the U.S. Department of Justice, who had requested Figueredo's extradition to New York to face a series of charges, including racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering. He is one of 41 people and entities charged in a U.S. investigation into $200 million in alleged bribes and kickback schemes tied to the marketing of major soccer tournaments and matches around the globe.
Figueredo's attorneys successfully argued to Swiss justice officials that an earlier 2013 Uruguayan case pending against him should take precedence over the U.S. case.
In making its decision, Switzerland's Federal Office of Justice concluded the U.S. and Uruguayan cases involved similar bribery allegations and also took into consideration Figueredo's advanced age and medical problems, according to a Dec. 18 order. Figueredo, 83, is suffering from neurological problems, his lawyer said, without giving further details. In Uruguay he is accused of fraud and money laundering, according to a preliminary order issued by a judge on Dec. 24. Those charges could carry jail sentences of more than two years.
After Figueredo is tried and punished in Uruguay he should then be extradited to the United States, according to the order by Judge Maria de los Santos. However, Figueredo's attorney said that such an extradition would be highly unlikely given his age and state of health.
In the United States he could face a maximum jail term of 20 years if convicted on the corruption-related charges. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Brooklyn, which is handling the FIFA corruption case, declined to comment.