NEW YORK, (Reuters) – A lawyer for a Costa Rican soccer official arrested in Switzerland last month on corruption charges, said there is no evidence his client took bribes or participated in a criminal enterprise, and called the prosecution “a legal absurdity.”
Eduardo Li, who served as the president of the Costa Rican soccer federation, is being detained in Switzerland along with six other soccer officials as part of a sweeping U.S. indictment alleging bribery, money laundering and wire fraud involving more than $150 million.
The case, which has cast a huge shadow over world soccer’s governing body FIFA, has also led to the indictment of two former top FIFA officials and five executives from marketing or broadcasting companies. They are in various countries, including Italy, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil and the U.S.
Shortly before his arrest, Li had been elected to serve on FIFA’s executive committee.
Li’s attorney in Costa Rica, Jose Miguel Villalobos, said his client is fighting extradition to the United States because he did not commit a crime. Villalobos, who is working with lawyers in Switzerland on Li’s defense, said his client is not in negotiations with U.S. prosecutors.
“He did not solicit any bribes or receive any bribes and it would be indecent for him to talk about things he doesn’t know,” Villalobos said.
Villalobos said U.S. prosecutors either misunderstand how Costa Rica soccer works, by incorrectly assuming the national soccer federation accounts are the same as Li’s personal accounts, or are unfairly trying to pressure his client to lie and implicate others.
A spokeswoman for Brooklyn, New York federal prosecutors handling the case, declined to comment on Villalobos’ remarks.
Villalobos’ comments may offer a preview of the defense that some of the leaders of world soccer ensnared in the FIFA bribery scandal could use against attempts to extradite them, and in any subsequent case if they do have to face a court in the U.S.
WAS POPULAR FIGURE
Li was named 2014 person of the year by Costa Rica’s La Nacion newspaper for his role in the national team’s unexpected run to the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Brazil, the first time it had got so far in the world’s top soccer tournament, which is held every four years.