Mon, Aug 27, 2018 - Page 10 News List

Tainted former soccer chiefs enjoy safe haven in Brazil

AFP, SAO PAULO

When the former boss of Brazilian soccer was arrested in Zurich in a 2015 graft case that would see him sentenced to prison, his successor in the job did not lose a minute — he got on the first flight to Rio de Janeiro and did not look back.

That was three years ago — and since then, Marco Polo Del Nero has seen FIFA’s top brass toppled in a scandal that has disgraced the world’s biggest sport, including ex-Brazil soccer chief Jose Maria Marin, who was sentenced in New York on Wednesday to four years in prison for taking US$6.6 million in bribes.

Del Nero, former head of the Brazilian Soccer Confederation (CBF), is wanted for trial in the same case and in April received a life ban from FIFA.

In his native Brazil, Del Nero is safe from extradition, which is only permitted in drug-trafficking cases. Also sheltering in Brazil is Ricardo Teixeira, who headed the CBF for 23 years, and stands accused in the same bribery case.

Both were accused by US authorities in December 2015. By then, though, they were safely home in Rio de Janeiro.

Their homes echo the years when Del Nero and Teixeira were allegedly milking the system by taking bribes from sports marketing companies in exchange for broadcast contracts at major soccer tournaments. That was a period when the duo, now in their 70s, lived rock star lives, surrounded by models, yachts and the trappings of stardom.

Today, they continue to enjoy the high life, even though they cannot travel for fear of arrest.

“They avoid showing themselves, but in no way have they lost the standard of living they used to have,” said Juca Kfouri, who has written about his nation’s scandal-ridden soccer chiefs for years.

Teixeira had already stepped aside when the bribery case broke, abruptly leaving the CBF three years earlier under a cloud of scandals and no longer protected by his ex-father-in-law, the late former FIFA president Joao Havelange.

In his place came Marin, and then, in 2015, Del Nero. Neither the arrest of Marin, nor his eventual trial, nor even a Brazilian Senate probe headed by ex-soccer player Romario could derail Del Nero. He has too many powerful friends in Brazil’s establishment.

“For years, the connections between the CBF and Brazilian politicians were enormous. These leaders benefited from the way that past relationships created a sort of protection,” said Jamil Chade, author of the book Politics, Bribes and Football.

The US Congress has been no impediment to the CBF leaders’ alleged activities. The US Senate committee probe ended without a demand for charges, and a further effort by Romario that resulted in a judicial investigation saw its work still secret months later.

Teixeira has also dodged a Spanish attempt to bring him to justice for alleged involvement in the same case that saw ex-Barcelona boss Sandro Rosell jailed. The request was made more than a year ago and Brazilian authorities have only said that it is being handled in secret.

Since Marin’s arrest on May 27, 2015, Del Nero’s globe-trotting days have ended. He is the “Marco Polo who never travels,” goes the joke.

Marin and Del Nero were once so close that they were described in court as twins — but that relationship ended when Del Nero fled Switzerland, abandoning Marin’s elderly wife.

“Marin was the king who made the toasts, but Marco Polo managed everything,” Marin’s lawyer said at the New York trial.

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