RPT-Linchpin of Brazil soccer business central to FIFA corruption sweep

jueves 28 de mayo de 2015 07:00 GYT

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By Brad Haynes

SAO PAULO May 28 (Reuters) - To help bring corruption charges against some of the most powerful men in world soccer, prosecutors in the United States convinced a Brazilian sports mogul to confess to a life at the nexus of money, soccer and graft.

José Hawilla, 71, the founder of sports marketing company Traffic, has spent decades connecting soccer officials with surging revenues from broadcast and advertising rights, while dodging investigations from Brazilian lawmakers and prosecutors.

Through connections at the top of the Brazilian game, Hawilla has negotiated TV deals for South America's biggest tournaments since 1991, along with nearly half a billion dollars of sponsorships including Nike Inc and the Coca-Cola Co .

His hefty commissions were divvied up as kickbacks for soccer officials in Brazil and throughout the Americas, Hawilla told U.S. investigators as part of plea deal in which he also agreed to forfeit over $151 million.

In an indictment released by the Department of Justice on Wednesday, Hawilla was one of four convicted defendants who helped U.S. investigators build their case against 14 top global soccer officials and sports marketing executives accused of orchestrating more than $150 million in bribes and kickbacks.

Hawilla's lawyer told newspaper Folha de S. Paulo that he had pled guilty, remained free in the United States, and was cooperating with investigators there. It was unclear exactly what information he had passed to U.S. officials.

Hawilla's guilty plea and the U.S. graft charges against José Maria Marin, former head of Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), stirred hopes in Brazil that the biggest names in the sport were finally within the law's reach. Anger has been building for years in Brazil over corruption scandals that are battering its economy and souring its politics.   Continuación...