NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former official of soccer’s world governing body FIFA pleaded with a U.S. judge on Wednesday to allow his release on bond after having spent nine months in Swiss and U.S. jails.
Eduardo Li, who was a member-elect of FIFA’s executive committee when he was arrested in Zurich in May, said at a hearing in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, that he would not flee if he were released pending a possible trial.
“I’ve had a work relationship with the United States my whole life,” said Li, 57, a Costa Rican citizen who owns a freight-forwarding business in his home country.
“My son and my daughter have studied here, and I have no intention of absconding,” he added, speaking in Spanish through a translator. “I want a chance.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Levy did not allow Li’s release at Wednesday’s hearing but told his lawyers and U.S. prosecutors to go on negotiating a bond package to assure Li does not flee. Another hearing was scheduled for Feb. 23.
A former president of Costa Rica’s national soccer federation, Li is charged with taking bribes in exchange for awarding contracts to a sports marketing firm and for arranging friendly matches with other national teams.
He has pleaded not guilty to charges including fraud and money-laundering.
He was among the first soccer officials arrested as part of a sweeping U.S. investigation of corruption in soccer that has sent FIFA and other governing bodies into an unprecedented crisis. Forty-one individuals and entities have been charged, including the heads of other national federations.
Li was initially held in Switzerland while he fought extradition to the United States, but in December he reversed course and waived extradition.
Criminal defendants in the United States may generally be released pending trial if they are not a danger to society and if they put forward assets to assure their return to court.
Though Li owns property in Costa Rica, he has not been able to sell any of it during the past several months, his lawyer Samuel Rosenthal said in court.
The nine months Li has already been in jail may end up a small fraction of what he spends in custody. Li could face a sentence of about 6 1/2 years if he goes on trial and is found guilty, Rosenthal said.
Reporting by David Ingram in New York; Editing by Alan Crosby