U.S. Soccer Corruption Probe Creates Copa America Prize Problem

Soccer leaders at South America’s Copa America are trying to find a way to pay prize money owed to competing teams after the event rights holder had its accounts frozen following a U.S. corruption probe.

South American soccer governing body Conmebol said it hasn’t been paid $45 million of the $80 million contract by rights holder Datisa after the company’s founding partners were charged in a sprawling U.S. indictment that alleges corruption in global soccer dating back more than two decades.

The quarterfinals of the 12-nation event kickoff tomorrow and the eight remaining teams are due to receive $750,000 each by the end of the week. The 12 teams that began the tournament have already received $1 million each, said Conmebol Treasurer and Bolivian soccer head Carlos Chavez.

“Because of this problem of Datisa, we are looking at Conmebol how to pay for the second phase, the semifinal and final,” Chavez said in an interview in Santiago, Chile, where the competition is being held. The four semifinalists are due $1.5 million each, the runner-up will get a further $2.5 million and the winner will pocket $4.5 million.

The Copa America stars Lionel Messi of Argentina, voted the world’s best player four times, and Real Madrid’s James Rodriguez. The event risked being overshadowed by charges filed by the U.S Department of Justice that said it was the center of a $110 million bribery scheme.

Sponsor Payments

Chavez said Conmebol President Juan Angel Napout, who has remained in Paraguay for the event, has approached event sponsors to ask for direct payments to help solve the problem.

Conmebol had sold television and marketing rights to Datisa for $80 million. Sponsors include Coca-Cola Co., Kia Motors Corp., DHL Worldwide Express, Claro SA and Kellogg Co.

Sponsors with the exception of DHL didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. “As a matter of company policy, we don’t discuss the financial conditions of any of our sponsorship agreements,” DHL said in an e-mailed statement.

Chavez said he spoke with Napout this morning, and he was confident a solution could be found.

“We have a lawyer in Conmebol who is looking to see if everything is correct so we have no more problems and all these teams are paid.”

Datisa has been unable to pay Conmebol because its Swiss accounts are frozen, said Jochen Loesch, head of international business for Brazil-based sports marketing firm Traffic Group, one of the companies that make up Datisa. Traffic founder Jose Hawilla, 71, pleaded guilty in federal court in Brooklyn to racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and obstruction of justice. He agreed to forfeit $151 million.

“The second the account is unlocked; they will receive the money,” Loesch said by telephone yesterday. “It’s just out of our reach.”

The company is working with lawyers in the U.S. and with Swiss authorities to unfreeze its bank accounts, he said.

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