NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former Costa Rican soccer federation president who was arrested last year in a U.S. corruption probe involving the sport’s global governing body FIFA pleaded guilty on Friday, admitting he took hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes.
Eduardo Li, who also is a former member of the executive committee for the North and Central American and Caribbean soccer confederation, CONCACAF, pleaded guilty in federal court in Brooklyn to charges including wire fraud and racketeering conspiracy.
In court, Li said that while serving as president of Costa Rica’s soccer federation, FEDEFUT, he received bribes in connection with awarding contracts for media and marketing rights for matches and for sponsoring team uniforms.
“I knew that it was wrong of me to accept such undisclosed payments,” Li said through a Spanish interpreter.
Li, 57, also agreed to forfeit $668,000.
Li is one of 42 individuals and entities charged as part of a U.S. investigation that has rocked Zurich-based FIFA and the soccer world. He was among seven soccer officials taken into custody in a dawn raid on a Zurich luxury hotel in May 2015. Li at the time was a member-elect to FIFA’s executive committee.
U.S. prosecutors have alleged Li and others engaged in schemes involving more than $200 million in bribes and kickbacks that were sought and received by soccer officials for marketing and broadcasting rights to tournaments and matches.
Seventeen people and two sports marketing companies have pleaded guilty.
In court on Friday, Li said he agreed to accept a $500,000 bribe, of which $300,000 he actually received, to award a Miami-based unit of Brazilian sports marketing firm Traffic Group media and marketing rights for 2022 World Cup qualifier matches.
Li said he also agreed to accept a separate $500,000 bribe, $230,000 of which he received, from Panama-based intermediaries in exchange for awarding a U.S. company a contract to serve as the Costa Rican national soccer team’s uniform sponsor.
Li said he also accepted bribes from someone in Florida in connection with friendly matches he organized, and embezzled $90,000 FIFA sent FEDEFUT to support the 2014 Under 17 FIFA Women’s World Cup soccer tournament in Costa Rica.
No sentencing date was set.
Prior to his plea, Li was set to face trial in November 2017 with seven other defendants. At a Sept. 19 hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Evan Norris said prosecutors were “in ongoing plea discussions with several of these defendants.”
Reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Will Dunham