ASUNCION (Reuters) - Paraguay’s Congress on Thursday approved a measure withdrawing immunity from the Asuncion headquarters of South America’s CONMEBOL football confederation, some of whose officials were charged with corruption by U.S. prosecutors last month.
CONMEBOL’s headquarters, on a 40-hectare site near Paraguay’s capital city, had enjoyed immunity from search since the office was opened in 1997.
A draft bill to remove the immunity was put to Congress in late May, days after U.S. authorities announced indictments of 14 past and present senior football officials and sports media executives connected to world football’s governing body FIFA.
“There is an urgent need to repeal this law and get on with the investigation,” Senator Juan Carlos Galaverna said during debate over the measure, which is expected to be signed into law by President Horacio Cartes.
“The immunity plus the headquarter’s proximity to the Silvio Pettirossi International Airport, and the diplomatic pouches that CONMEBOL directors moved through that airport, could mean things were hidden of an even more serious nature than what has been reported so far,” the lawmaker added.
No officials from CONMEBOL could be immediately reached for comment.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter announced his resignation on June 2. U.S. and Swiss law enforcement authorities have said they would continue their investigations.
Among those indicted was Nicolas Leoz, a Paraguayan national and former president of CONMEBOL. A U.S.-led probe has charged officials with operating a criminal enterprise over more than two decades spanning racketeering to wire fraud and money laundering.
Suspects facing extradition to the United States include many top figures of Latin America’s football establishment.
In neighbouring Argentina, a pair of businessmen accused of winning lucrative media rights contracts from regional football
federations by paying tens of millions of dollars in bribes, remained in hiding. Hugo Jinkis, 70, and his son Mariano Jinkis, 40, are two of three Argentines implicated in the case.
The third, businessman Alejandro Burzaco, surrendered voluntarily to police in northern Italy on Tuesday.
Burzaco is also being investigated by Argentina’s tax authority, which suspects him of tax evasion. He would have to be extradited from Italy, which is often slow and complicated, to either the United States or Argentina.
Writing by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Grant McCool and Lisa Shumaker