Honduran ex-president pleads guilty in NY

Jennie Matthew
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Former Honduran president Rafael Callejas leaves the Brooklyn federal court in New York, March 28, 2016 after pleading guilty to charges of racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy in connection with the FIFA corruption scandal

Former Honduran president Rafael Callejas leaves the Brooklyn federal court in New York, March 28, 2016 after pleading guilty to charges of racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy in connection with the FIFA corruption scandal (AFP Photo/Kena Betancur)

New York (AFP) - Former Honduran president Rafael Callejas pleaded guilty in New York Monday to conspiracy to commit racketeering and wire fraud in connection with the FIFA corruption scandal rocking world football.

The 72-year-old, who has been free on a $4 million bail in the United States since leaving Honduras by private jet last December to face American justice, will be sentenced on August 5.

The two counts each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in jail.

"Guilty," Callejas told Magistrate Judge Robert Levy in a federal court in Brooklyn, entering his plea. He spoke calmly in fluent English with a US accent, and was dressed in a dark suit.

Callejas served as president of Honduras from 1990 to 1994. He was head of the country's football federation from 2002 to 2015, and is also a former member of FIFA's Television and Marketing Committee.

He originally faced eight charges of racketeering, fraud and money laundering, to which he pleaded not guilty on December 15.

"I knew it was wrong," he told court Monday, admitting to receiving bribes for awarding media and marketing rights contracts to a Florida-based company for Honduran FIFA World Cup qualifier matches.

As part of his plea, he agreed to forfeit $650,000 -- $180,000 to be paid within one week and the balance due within 12 months.

He is one of 39 officials and marketing executives accused of soliciting and receiving tens of millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks in a case that has sparked an unprecedented crisis at FIFA.

- Extradition -

US prosecutors accused Callejas of receiving $1.6 million in bribes between March 2011 and January 2013 for broadcast rights of games played by the Honduran national team.

They said Florida company Media World paid these bribes from its US bank accounts through an intermediary, to overseas accounts of Callejas and a co-conspirator.

Monday's plea brings to 14 the number of individuals to have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with US prosecutors in the FIFA case in exchange for a possible reduction in sentence.

Callejas told the judge that he had been under treatment from a cardiologist and was currently taking medication.

Last Tuesday, Costas Takkas, the former Cayman Islands Football Federation general secretary, became the latest FIFA suspect extradited from Switzerland to appear in a New York court.

Takkas pleaded not guilty before Magistrate Judge Viktor Pohorelsky and was released on a $1 million bond with a $25,000 cash deposit, court documents show.

The 57-year-old accountant, who has British and Greek citizenship, will be confined to house arrest in Florida, allowed to leave only to see his doctors, lawyers, go to court or to attend religious services.

Takkas, who was born in Cyprus, was one of six FIFA officials arrested in May 2015 in Zurich at the request of US authorities.

The US judge granted him 60 minutes of exercise a day in a gym in the building of his Florida residence.

The US corruption investigation precipitated the downfall of longtime FIFA president Sepp Blatter and his former heir apparent, Michel Platini, who have both been banned from the sport for six years for ethics violations.