May 25, 2018 / 3:25 PM / a year ago

Jose Hawilla, key witness in FIFA trial, dies aged 74

FILE PHOTO: The owner of Traffic Group, Jose Hawilla attends a meeting in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in this September 30, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Gazeta Press/Fernando Pilatos

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Jose Hawilla, the Brazilian businessman whose plea-bargain testimony was crucial to prosecutors in the FIFA corruption scandal, has died in Sao Paulo, hospital officials said on Friday. He was 74.

Hawilla began his career as radio reporter before making his fortune by selling space on pitchside hoardings. His sports marketing company Traffic grew to become one of the biggest in South America.

U.S. police arrested him in 2013 and accused him of paying bribes to senior football officials to secure commercial rights for tournaments such as the Copa America.

He pled guilty in 2014 to racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and obstruction of justice, and agreed to forfeit over $151 million and help police.

His plea bargain testimony was crucial for prosecutors who eventually arrested some of the most important officials in world football, including high-ranking FIFA officials and former heads of the South American Football Confederation and the Brazilian Football Confederation.

The indictments led to the worst corruption scandal in FIFA history.

Hawilla had lived in the US since his arrest but returned to Brazil a few months ago, news reports said. He suffered from respiratory problems.

Reporting by Andrew Downie; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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