Nicaraguan ex-FIFA official pleads not guilty in U.S. bribery case

Wed May 18, 2016 8:41pm EDT
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By Nate Raymond and Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi

NEW YORK/ZURICH (Reuters) - A former FIFA official from Nicaragua who was responsible for overseeing the soccer governing body's development efforts in Central America pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to U.S. charges stemming from a wide-ranging bribery investigation.

Julio Rocha, who is also a former president of the Nicaraguan soccer federation, pleaded not guilty in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, to charges including racketeering conspiracy, money laundering and wire fraud.

He was extradited from Switzerland earlier in the day, the country's Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) said. William Sullivan, Rocha's lawyer, confirmed his client's extradition.

Following a court hearing, Rocha was released on a $1.5 million bond and placed under home detention, according to a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Brooklyn, which is overseeing the case.

Rocha is among 42 individuals and entities charged as part of a U.S. investigation into more than $200 million in bribes and kickbacks sought by soccer officials for marketing and broadcast rights to tournaments and matches.

He was one of seven soccer officials arrested at a Zurich hotel in May 2015 as part of the investigation, which has sent Switzerland-based FIFA and other governing bodies into crisis.

To date, 15 people and two corporate entities have pleaded guilty.

The Swiss Federal Court this month cleared the way for Rocha's extradition after rejecting his appeal to be sent to his home country, where he faced separate charges.   Continued...

Former FIFA and Nicaraguan soccer official Julio Rocha (2nd R) exits with his lawyers following his hearing at the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S. May 18, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid