Ex-Costa Rican soccer chief Li pleads guilty in U.S. bribery case

Former FIFA and CONCACAF executive committee member and former president of the Costa Rican soccer federation Eduardo Li enters the Brooklyn Federal Court in Brooklyn, New York, U.S.

By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A former Costa Rican soccer federation president charged in a U.S. corruption probe involving the sport’s global governing body FIFA pleaded guilty on Friday, admitting he took hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes.

Eduardo Li, also an ex-member of the executive committee for the North and Central American and Caribbean soccer confederation, CONCACAF, pleaded guilty in federal court in Brooklyn to charges including wire fraud and racketeering conspiracy.

In court, Li said as president of Costa Rica’s soccer federation, FEDEFUT, he accepted bribes to award contracts for media and marketing rights for matches and for sponsoring team uniforms.

“I knew that it was wrong of me to accept such undisclosed payments,” Li said through a Spanish interpreter.

Li, who prior to his indictment was a member-elect to FIFA’s executive committee, also agreed to forfeit $668,000.

Li, 57, is one of 42 individuals and entities charged in a U.S. investigation that has rocked FIFA. He was among seven soccer officials arrested at a Zurich luxury hotel in May 2015.

U.S. prosecutors allege Li and others engaged in schemes involving over $200 million in bribes and kickbacks that were sought and received by soccer officials for marketing and broadcasting rights to tournaments and matches.

Seventeen people and two entities have pleaded guilty.

In court on Friday, Li said he negotiated a $500,000 bribe, of which $300,000 he actually received, to award a Miami-based unit of Brazil’s Traffic Group media and marketing rights for 2022 World Cup qualifier matches.

Li said he also agreed to accept a separate $500,000 bribe, $230,000 of which he received, from Panama-based intermediaries in exchange for awarding a U.S. company a contract to be the Costa Rican national team’s uniform sponsor.

Li added the intermediaries asked him to not tell the company about the bribes.

While he did not name the company, the deal matched the description of one announced in 2015 with Boston-based New Balance.

New Balance said in a statement it plans to cooperate with authorities should they contact the company.

“New Balance has a long history of ethical and fair play across all of our global business operations and we do not tolerate any corrupt activities,” the company said.

Li said he also accepted bribes in connection with friendly matches a Florida-based individual organized, and embezzled $90,000 FIFA sent FEDEFUT for the 2014 Under 17 FIFA Women’s World Cup soccer tournament in Costa Rica.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Bernadette Baum,d Will Dunham and David Gregorio)