US hands Swiss bank red card in FIFA bribe scandal

Bank Julius Baer agreed to pay more than $79 million in penalties over its role in the 'FIFAgate' scanadal
Bank Julius Baer agreed to pay more than $79 million in penalties over its role in the 'FIFAgate' scanadal OZAN KOSE AFP/File
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New York (AFP)

Swiss Bank Julius Baer admitted it participated in money laundering of $36 million in bribes in the "FIFAgate" scandal over television broadcast rights, US officials announced on Thursday.

The bank admitted in federal court that it conspired to launder the funds through the United States to officials with FIFA and soccer federations in the Americas.

"Their behavior has earned them the equivalent of a red card, and the money the bank now owes the US government is more than double what it admits to laundering," FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr said in a statement.

It was the latest twist in the scandal which shook up the international footballing body, forcing long-time chief Sepp Blatter to step down in 2015.

The legal saga began with the arrests in May 2015, and involves "racketeering" by officials in the two continental federations in the Americas, CONMEBOL and CONCACAF, in exchange for the rights to broadcast continental competitions.

Julius Baer admitted the wrongdoing and entered into a three-year deferred prosecution agreement with US authorities. As part of this agreement, the bank has agreed to pay more than $79 million in penalties, including a fine of $43.3 million, the Justice Department statement said.

Jorge Luis Arzuaga who worked in the bank's Montevideo, Uruguay, and Zurich, Switzerland, offices pleaded guilty in June 2017 for his role in the conspiracy.

Arzuaga conspired with sports marketing executives -- including Alejandro Burzaco, the controlling executive of Torneos y Competencias S.A. (Torneos), a sports media and marketing company headquartered in Argentina -- to funnel the bribes to FIFA officials. Burzaco pleaded guilty in November 2015 for his role.

"Had Arzuaga's supervisors or compliance personnel meaningfully reviewed Arzuaga's due diligence on Torneos and his responses to transaction alerts, they would have known there were multiple, significant red flags," the statement said.

The bank "knew that Arzuaga's clients' accounts were associated with international soccer, which was generally understood to involve high corruption risks."

The bank welcomed the agreement with US authorities.

"This marks another step in Julius Baer's continued efforts to pursue the closure of remaining regulatory and legal matters in cooperation with the relevant authorities," the bank said in a statement.

US courts also have sentenced Paraguayan Juan Angel Napout to nine years in prison and Brazilian Jose Maria Marin to four years. Cayman Islander Jeffrey Webb, a former head of the North and Central America and Caribbean (CONCACAF) confederation, has pleaded guilty and agreed to pay $6.7 million. He is awaiting sentencing.