GENEVA (AP) — The first of a number of appeals by former soccer officials banned for life by FIFA was heard Tuesday at sport's highest court.
FIFA said Ariel Alvarado — a former member of its ethics committee — challenged its verdict at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Alvarado is one of at least 29 officials banned for life by soccer's governing body in the last five years.
The Panamanian’s case kicked off a monthly series of upcoming appeals at CAS brought by Latin American soccer officials removed from soccer after being indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice on various charges of racketeering, money laundering and wire fraud conspiracy.
The sports court has scheduled an appeal in August by disgraced former Brazil soccer boss Ricardo Teixeira, who has questioned if the U.S. federal evidence is accurate.
Next up in September is Juan Ángel Napout of Paraguay who was convicted at a 2017 trial in Brooklyn. The conviction was upheld on appeal last month.
Another Brazilian, Marco Polo del Nero, is expected to have an October date with CAS, and an appeal is pending for Manuel Burga who was banned by almost two years after the Peruvian was acquitted by the same jury which convicted Napout.
CAS said Tuesday that Alvarado’s hearing was conducted by video link from the court in Lausanne, Switzerland — a process made routine by travel restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.
Still, other remote hearings are likely simply because the appellants — such as Teixeira and Del Nero — risk arrest in Switzerland since their indictments were unsealed by the Justice Department in December 2015.
Del Nero fled Zurich in May 2015 in the aftermath of early morning raids at luxury hotels in the city to arrest top soccer officials attending FIFA meetings and a presidential election.
Those arrests revealed the sprawling — and ongoing — American and Swiss investigations of bribery and corruption worth tens of millions of dollars linked to marketing deals and hosting votes for the World Cup and other international competitions.
The American case developed over years from early targeting of Chuck Blazer, the most senior elected American at FIFA for more than a decade who became a cooperating witness.
Blazer’s life ban, imposed by FIFA on July 9, 2015, was the first of around 30 so far arising from the Justice Department evidence. Blazer was seriously ill at the time and died in 2017.
Alvarado was found guilty last year by FIFA, relying on American evidence, of getting at least $230,000 in bribes linked to commercial contracts World Cup qualifying games and the CONCACAF Gold Cup from 2009 to 2011. At the same time, he sat in judgment of other soccer officials summoned before the FIFA ethics panel.
At his own FIFA ethics hearing, Alvarado argued he was a victim of double jeopardy because the North American governing body, CONCACAF, has previously banned him from soccer in the region.
Teixeira, however, disputed the U.S. evidence in a wider federal investigation that has seen guilty pleas, convictions and indictments from dozens of soccer and marketing officials.
The FIFA allegations against Teixieira, his lawyers argued last year, “are no more than assumptions made by U.S. attorneys, without any evidence to support the indictment.”
Teixieira, like many others, was also fined 1 million Swiss francs ($1.06 million) by FIFA ethics judges.
The first verdicts from CAS judges are likely late this year and should continue into 2021.
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