By Luis Ampuero
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – South America soccer was run as a fiefdom by a few leading officials for personal gain before they were brought to account by U.S. law enforcement, the head of the regional governing body CONMEBOL said on Wednesday.
The Paraguay-based CONMEBOL, many of whose officials were indicted in the U.S.-led investigation into corruption at world football’s governing body FIFA last year, had no books prior to 2013 and enjoyed diplomatic immunity, Alejandro Dominguez said.
Dominguez, a Paraguayan who took charge of CONMEBOL’s Asuncion offices in January, was in Buenos Aires to give an account of the rot he found in the organization and his plans to ensure that the game benefited from all its revenue.
“When we took charge of CONMEBOL, we realized we were entering a structure without any organization, something I would describe as a personal fiefdom or even a personal business … that worked according to the whims of certain people and was never held accountable,” Dominguez told a news conference.
Three of his predecessors as CONMEBOL chairman were indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice, including 87-year-old Nicolas Leoz, who was its head from 1986 to 2013 and is now under house arrest with an order for his extradition to the United States.
Latin Americans made up the majority of the 41 football officials who came under investigation for taking kickbacks for the rights to top football events including South America’s flagship Copa America, the world’s oldest international tournament which celebrated its centenary this year.
“At CONMEBOL, we found an institution with diplomatic immunity that in practice was impunity. At its headquarters, incredibly, there are no documents prior to 2013… so no balances and accounts… Even worse, it has never had a budget until this year,” Dominguez said.
“Its objective was money and football was the means,” said Dominguez, adding that his administration was working to put the house in order and the objective this year was to reinvest 91 percent of the revenue generated by the sport.
“We are building a new CONMEBOL that is of football, by football and for football.”
(Additional reporting by Miguel Lobianco; Writing by Rex Gowar; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)