ASUNCION (Reuters) - A Paraguayan judge should dismiss a U.S. extradition request for Nicolás Leoz, the former head of South America’s CONMEBOL football confederation, because a treaty between the two countries is fraught with legal holes, Leoz’s attorney said on Monday.
Leoz, 86, is among nine football officials and five marketing executives hit with U.S. charges including conspiracy to commit racketeering and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in the biggest corruption scandal ever to hit world football. Leoz has been under house arrest since June 1.
Paraguay has an extradition treaty with the United States, but the legal argument put forward by Leoz’s lawyer in court on Monday highlights how the long arm of U.S. law may struggle to reach all defendants swiftly.
“The defence is saying that you cannot extradite somebody if the law did not lay out the rules of the game,” Ricardo Preda, the attorney representing Leoz, told reporters outside the court. “The treaty does not establish clear procedures to follow. There is a legislative void.”
Leoz was not present at Monday’s hearing.
Judge Humberto Otazu said he would take up to three days to rule on the defence’s submission. The judge’s decision can also be appealed.
In fact, legal experts in Paraguay have said securing Leoz’s extradition could entail a lengthy process, citing potential appeals that could go as high as the country’s Supreme Court.
The extradition treaty between Paraguay and the United States, a 29-page document signed on Nov. 9, 1998, calls for each country to extradite defendants who have been charged with acts that constitute a crime in both nations and carry a minimum penalty of one year in prison.
“We will analyse this because there are complex questions that have been put before the court which will require a reasonable time for a decision,” the judge told the court.
Leoz was president of CONMEBOL for 27 years until 2013 when he stepped down citing ill health. The judge has previously said he can leave his residence, located in a wealthy neighbourhood of the capital Asuncion, for dental care and physiotherapy treatment.
Reporting by Daniela Desantis, writing by Richard Lough, editing by G Crosse