February 21, 2018 / 11:37 PM / 6 months ago

Panama company pleads guilty to bribing Costa Rican soccer official

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Panama-based company on Wednesday pleaded guilty to bribing a Costa Rican soccer official and was ordered to pay a fine and restitution totalling $1.4 million, the latest penalty imposed in the U.S. prosecution of corruption in international soccer.

Mimo International Exports and Imports Inc entered its plea before U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen in Brooklyn. A shareholder, Moises Zebede, appeared in court to represent the company, along with its attorney, Barry Kingham.

Chen imposed the $500,000 restitution, which will be paid to the Costa Rican soccer federation, and the $900,000 fine immediately after accepting the guilty plea. She also said that the company would dissolve as part of a plea agreement.

According to a statement Kingham read in court, Mimo agreed in 2014 to pay $500,000 to Eduardo Li, then head of the Costa Rican soccer federation, so that he would sign a deal for a U.S. apparel company to sponsor Costa Rica’s national team.

Mimo was seeking to pull out of a 2012 deal in which it had agreed to manufacture or import apparel from an Italian company that sponsored the team, while collecting a multimillion dollar termination fee, Kingham said. The U.S.company agreed to pay that fee, Kingham said.

Prosecutors said Li received more than $300,000 of the agreed-upon bribe before he was arrested in May 2015 in Zurich, headquarters of the sport’s world governing body FIFA.

Though the prosecutors did not name the U.S. company, the sponsorship deal matched the description of one announced in 2015 with Boston-based New Balance. Prosecutors said shareholder Zebede did not tell the U.S. company about the bribe, and told Li not to reveal it as well.

Li pleaded guilty in 2016. He was banned from soccer for life by FIFA in April 2017.

New Balance could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. It said at the time of Li’s guilty plea it did not tolerate corrupt activities and would cooperate with U.S. prosecutors if it was called to do so.

Two months ago, Juan Angel Napout, the former president of the South American soccer governing body CONMEBOL and Paraguay’s soccer federation, and Jose Maria Marin, former president of Brazil’s soccer federation, were convicted by a jury in Brooklyn federal court of taking bribes in exchange for the award of valuable marketing and media rights to international matches.

Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; editing by Grant McCool

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