One of the highest-ranking FIFA officials initially swept up in the early morning raids in May orchestrated by the American government has slipped through U.S. hands, CBS News has learned, apparently becoming the first of more than three dozen international soccer figures implicated in a massive sports corruption scandal to avoid extradition to the U.S.
Eugenio Figueredo, 83, a dual U.S. and Uruguayan citizen, landed in the Uruguay capital of Montevideo Thursday in the custody of Interpol. Federal police then transported Figueredo to a courthouse for his first court appearance, which took place in front of a three-judge panel and stretched into the evening, his legal team confirmed to CBS News. At the closed, hours-long hearing, Figueredo was questioned by prosecutors under oath, his attorneys said, and gave his first sworn testimony in the case. The testimony was sealed. The hearing ended around 6:30 p.m. EST without Figueredo entering a plea to the Uruguayan corruption charges against him, his legal team said.
Figueredo was a FIFA vice president at the time of his arrest and the former head of South American soccer. The U.S. accuses him of wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering. Forty-one people and entities have been charged so far in an alleged scheme spanning nearly a quarter century to "solicit and receive" more than $200 million in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for awarding television rights, sponsorships, and selecting hosts for the World Cup. If true, it would be the largest corruption scandal in global sports history.
Twelve of the defendants, along with two sports marketing companies, have already been convicted, according to the U.S. Justice Department. The investigation has decimated FIFA leadership and led to a dramatic overhaul of top executives in the organizations that oversee the world's most popular sport.
Figueredo's native country, Uruguay, challenged U.S. extradition and on Dec. 18 the Swiss Federal Office of Justice ruled against the U.S. government, finding the South American country had a previously-dormant, recently-revived case against Figueredo that pre-dated the Department of Justice's sweeping prosecution.
Figueredo's legal team sees the justice system in his native Uruguay as a more favorable venue for his case than American courts.
"My client has come home to his native land to face the charges that have been brought against him," Figueredo's American attorney, David Torres-Siegrist, told CBS News Thursday evening in his first interview about the case. "He stands ready and willing to answer truthfully. His legal team is secure in the fact that he will receive a fair trial in Uruguay."
Prosecutors in Uruguay have charged Figueredo with bribery, money laundering, and other offenses that span a longer period of time than the U.S. counts encompass. Uruguayan authorities are also prosecuting Figueredo on U.S. accusations he fraudulently obtained American citizenship by lying about suffering from dementia, his attorney said.
Torres-Siegrist praised the Swiss authorities for extraditing Figueredo to Uruguay instead of the U.S."Mr Figueredo, his wife, family and legal team are extremely grateful to the [Swiss] Federal Office of Justice for its sound and reasoned ruling. The Federal Office of Justice's decision is a testament to the Swiss tradition of remaining neutral in international proceedings. We feel they decided the issue of priority based on the facts of law that culminated in the appropriate forum for trial in this case," Torres-Siegrist said in the interview shortly after his client's hearing ended.
Figueredo will be held at a federal detention center in Montevideo until another court appearance Jan. 18, according to his attorneys.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has vowed to stamp out corruption in soccer's global leadership. At a news conference earlier this month, she sent an explicit warning to those involved in the scandal but whom the Department of Justice has not yet charged.
"You will not wait us out," Lynch promised. "You will not escape our focus."