BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Interpol agents raided on Friday the offices of three Argentine businessmen accused by the United States of paying tens of millions of dollars in bribes in a corruption scandal that has shaken world soccer, local media reported.
Alejandro Burzaco, Hugo Jinkis and his son Mariano Jinkis, all Argentine citizens, are among nine soccer officials and five sports media and promotion executives hit with U.S. graft charges involving more than $150 million in bribes.
A judge on Thursday ordered the three men’s arrest and the country’s tax agency formally accused them of tax evasion and money laundering. But on Friday, they and two other defendants named on the U.S. indictment had apparently still not been detained.
U.S. officials are seeking to extradite defendants who remain outside the United States.
TV pictures showed police officers inside the building that houses Torneos y Competencias (Torneos), a sports media and promotions firm. Burzaco is Torneos’ president and a powerful sports media tycoon.
State-run news agency Telam reported police also entered the offices of Full Play, which is owned by Hugo and Mariano Jinkis.
Interpol declined to comment. Calls to Torneos went unanswered and Full Play did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
The U.S. indictment states Burzaco, Jinkis and Jinkis’ son led their companies to form a new entity known as Datisa, and then conspired to win lucrative TV rights through the payment of up to $110 million in bribes.
Datisa signed a $317.5 million contract with the South American soccer confederation, CONMEBOL, to obtain exclusive worldwide rights to the 2015, 2019 and 2023 Copa America tournaments, according to the indictment.
It later entered a $35 million contract with the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football, CONCACAF, to acquire rights for another tournament.
Three top CONMEBOL officials, including the president of the Argentine Football Association (AFA), were to receive a total of $45 million in kickbacks, the indictment showed. The rest was to be disbursed amongst other officials.
Although his name does not appear on the indictment, Julio Grondona, who was FIFA boss Sepp Blatter’s No. 2 for years, was president of AFA at the time. Grondona died in July 2014, after 35 years at the helm of AFA.
Argentine journalist Alejandro Casar, who has written extensively about corruption in Latin American soccer, said Burzaco and Grondona enjoyed a close relationship.
Torneos has strongly denied any involvement in corruption by the company or its president since the scandal broke.
Reporting by Richard Lough; Editing by Kieran Murray and Lisa Shumaker