NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former Honduran President Rafael Callejas pleaded guilty on Monday to U.S. charges that he participated in bribery schemes that are under investigation at soccer’s world governing body FIFA.
Callejas, who is also the former president of the Honduran soccer federation, admitted in federal court in Brooklyn, New York that he sought bribes in connection with awarding media and marketing rights for World Cup qualifier matches.
“I knew that it was wrong for me to ask for and accept such undisclosed payments,” Callejas said in court.
Callejas, who pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy, agreed as part of a plea deal to forfeit $650,000. His lawyer declined comment after the hearing.
Sentencing was set for Aug. 5 and the charges carry a maximum penalty of up to 20 years each.
The 72-year-old is one of 42 individuals and entities charged as part of a U.S. investigation into more than $200 million in bribes and kickbacks sought and received by soccer officials for marketing and broadcast rights to tournaments and matches.
The investigation has sent Switzerland-based FIFA and other soccer governing bodies into an unprecedented crisis. Gianni Infantino, FIFA’s newly elected president, has vowed to restore FIFA’s image.
To date, 14 people and two corporate entities have pleaded guilty in the U.S. case.
Callejas served as Honduran president from 1990 through 1994. He was the president of the Honduras soccer federation, FENAFUTH, from 2002 to 2015 and was also a member of FIFA’s marketing and television committee.
He was indicted in December and came voluntarily to the United States later that month to face the charges. Callejas has been under house arrest as part of a $4 million bail package.
The indictment said Callejas took bribes from Media World, a Florida-based affiliate of Spain’s Imagina Group, so that the company could obtain media and marketing rights for qualifier matches ahead of the 2014, 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments.
In court, Callejas said he accepted “hundreds of thousands” of dollars in bribes from Media World and used a “significant portion” of the money to pay delegates to FENAFUTH to ensure his re-election.
Editing by Fiona Ortiz and Tom Brown