- Agreeing to be extradited is seen as a bid for leniency
- Tactics change as chances of avoiding U.S. justice dim
Rather than languish in a Zurich jail, former Brazilian soccer official Jose Maria Marin took a chance on U.S. justice. For now, it’s paid off as he’s free on bail in his apartment in New York’s Trump Tower with its views over Central Park.
Marin agreed to be extradited to the U.S. to face racketeering and money laundering charges in what lawyers see as a bid to win him leniency. He’s now living under house arrest in his $3.5 million Manhattan apartment after pleading not guilty and putting up $15 million in bail. Meanwhile, five other FIFA officials arrested in the same raids six months ago are still in jail in Switzerland.
With U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and her Swiss counterpart standing shoulder-to-shoulder on rooting out corruption in soccer, the men’s chances of escaping U.S. justice are slim. As the five -- Eugenio Figueredo, Julio Rocha, Rafael Esquivel, Eduardo Li and Costas Takkas -- contemplate that reality from their Swiss jail cells and Marin’s own fortune, the calculus is changing.
“The U.S. Attorney General is paying close attention to this and so the Swiss authorities are paying close attention too,” said Edward Grange, an extradition lawyer at Corker Binning in London. “The Swiss are obliged to extradite under their treaty with the U.S. unless an exception applies, which doesn’t seem to be the case here.”
Swiss police swept in at dawn on May 27, arresting seven officials in Zurich for a FIFA meeting and triggering a global probe into corruption at the heart of the world’s most popular sport. The U.S. Justice Department has indicted 14 people and threatened further arrests. Their Swiss counterparts have begun a criminal probe into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar and are also investigating FIFA President Sepp Blatter.
FIFA’s Appeal Committee on Wednesday rejected Blatter’s appeal of a 90-day suspension that the body’s ethics committee handed down in October. The suspension came after the Swiss prosecutors opened their case against FIFA’s long-standing president over a controversially delayed 2 million Swiss-franc payment ($1.97 million) Blatter had made to European soccer chief Michel Platini. Blatter and Platini, whose appeal was also rejected, have both said they are innocent of any wrongdoing.
Jeffrey Webb, the former head of the Central and North American soccer federation, has also agreed to return to the U.S. Two others have said they’ll accept extradition to their native Uruguay and Nicaragua, a gamble that they’ll ultimately be able to then stay out of the U.S. The Swiss haven’t yet consented to those requests.
The last time a Swiss extradition dispute made international headlines was in 2010 when the Alpine nation refused an American request to send film director Roman Polanski to the U.S. to face nearly four-decade-old statutory rape allegations. Both cases involved famous suspects, but their similarities end there, said Rebecca Niblock, a lawyer at Kingsley Napley in London.
“The FIFA case is so high profile and wide ranging that it will have an impact on a country’s reputation,” she said in an interview. “If you’re seen to be a haven for corrupt officials, it doesn’t reflect well on you from the perspective of the rule of law and your international standing.”
U.S. prosecutors are hoping that Webb, a former FIFA vice-president and head of its audit committee, will help shed light on corruption in global soccer.
Accepting extradition gives a judge “a good reason to grant them bail,” said Raj Chada, a partner at Hodge Jones & Allen in London. “The fact you have agreed to extradition may give some degree of leniency.”
Former FIFA Vice President Figueredo last week agreed to be extradited to his native Uruguay, but any trip home soon is unlikely. The Swiss authorities must first rule on whether he should be sent to Uruguay or the U.S., which still wants him to face justice in New York. Rocha of Nicaragua is also seeking to be sent to his home country.
The gamble has already paid dividends for Marin and Webb, who was released on $10 million bail after agreeing to return to the U.S. in July. Webb is living in the Atlanta suburb of Loganville, with electronic monitoring.
Charles Stillman, Marin’s lawyer, declined to comment on the motivations for his client seeking bail.
While Polanski awaited a decision on his extradition, he was allowed to stay under house arrest in his chalet in the ski resort of Gstaad.
The FIFA five still stuck in Zurich have had no such luck. Behind bars, they have plenty of time to weigh their dwindling options, Chada said.
They “will be balancing whether to oppose extradition entirely versus returning voluntarily,” he said. “Once they’re back on U.S. soil, it’s the beginning of the end game.”