Two officials including the former president of Honduras have pleaded not guilty to charges they took bribes in exchange for media and marketing rights in the ongoing Fifa scandal.
Rafael Callejas, who was president of Honduras from 1990 to 1994 and later became president of its football federation, and Paraguayan, Juan Ángel Napout, the former president of the South American confederation Conmebol, pleaded not guilty at separate hearings.
The two came to the United States voluntarily after their indictment on bribery charges was unsealed earlier this month. They are among 41 people and entities charged in a US corruption sweep that has propelled the world governing body, Fifa, into an unprecedented crisis.
The 72-year-old Callejas, who has served on a Fifa committee, denied the accusations and said he was ready to defend himself.
Callejas is charged with receiving bribes from Media World, an affiliate of Spain’s Imagina Group, in exchange for qualifying matches before the 2014, 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments.
Imagina has suspended the chief executive of Media World and another employee.
A magistrate judge approved a $20m bail deal that allowed for Napout’s release. The 57-year-old, quit Conmebol last week and was suspended from his position as a Fifa vice-president.
Napout is charged with accepting bribes from two sports marketing firms in exchange for his support for awarding commercial rights to tournaments including the Copa Libertadores.
Of the 41 defendants cited in the case, 14 have pleaded guilty. At least four others including Callejas and Napout are in the United States. The rest are in various stages of extradition proceedings.
The arrests form part of a wider US investigation into corruption at football’s governing body, that first came to light when 14 officials were arrested on the eve of its congress in Zurich earlier this year.
Since then there have been further investigations by Swiss authorities into the decision to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar respectively.
Meanwhile in Peru, authorities have opened an investigation into the current head of the Peruvian Football Federation (FPF), Edwin Oviedo, as well as 65 other people, amid suspicion that sports activities were used to launder money.
In Brazil, former players including Rai and Paulo Cezar Caju have called for the resignation of Brazilian Football Confederation President Marco Polo Del Nero, who has been indicted in the US for “racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies”.
“We need a more democratic institution in order to rebuild Brazilian football,” Rai told BBC Brasil.