December 31, 2015 / 5:21 PM / 4 years ago

Suspended Guatemalan judge pleads not guilty in U.S. football case

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A suspended Guatemalan judge who was arrested while aboard a Disney cruise ship has pleaded not guilty to charges that he took bribes in exchange for media and marketing rights to World Cup qualifier matches.

Héctor Trujillo, who was secretary general of the Guatemalan football federation and a judge on the country’s Constitutional Court until his Dec. 4 arrest, entered his plea on Wednesday in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, a spokeswoman for Brooklyn prosecutors said on Thursday.

He is one of dozens of football officials charged by U.S. authorities investigating corruption in the sport’s world governing body, FIFA.

A bail hearing has been set for Jan. 7, according to the spokeswoman.

Football bosses from South and Central America, including Trujillo, were among 16 people charged on Dec. 3 for engaging in schemes involving over $200 million in bribes and kickbacks sought for marketing and broadcast rights to tournaments and matches.

In total, 41 defendants have been charged in the United States in a corruption sweep that has rocked football worldwide and sent FIFA into an unprecedented crisis.

Trujillo, 62, was arrested while aboard a Disney cruise ship docked in Port Canaveral, Florida.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, in announcing the charges on Dec. 3, said the allegations marked a contradiction with Trujillo’s position as a judge on Guatemala’s top court.

Trujillo was “purportedly dispensing justice by day while allegedly soliciting bribes and selling his influence within FIFA,” Lynch said.

Trujillo has since been suspended from his position as judge and ousted as secretary general of the football federation.

According to the indictment, Trujillo solicited and accepted two bribe payments from Media World, an affiliate of Spanish media company Imagina Group.

One payment was a “six-figure bribe” to be split among Trujillo and two other Guatemalans for media and marketing rights for 2018 World Cup qualifier matches, the indictment said.

The second payment was a $200,000 bribe that Trujillo and another Guatemalan football official split in exchange for media and marketing rights to 2022 World Cup qualifier matches, the indictment said. Meetings about the alleged bribes took place in Miami.

At a meeting in Chicago on July 9, weeks after a first round of soccer-related arrests, Trujillo openly discussed how he hid the bribe payments, the indictment said.

Trujillo said “that he did not think the payment would appear suspicious, as a sham contract had been created,” the indictment said.

Reporting by Nate Raymond and Brendan Pierson in New York; Additional reporting by Sofia Menchú in Guatemala City; Editing by Dan Grebler

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