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Ex-banker pleads guilty to US charge in FIFA probe

Jorge Arzuaga, 56, a former Argentine banker, Leaves federal court after pleading guilty to a U.S. charge linked to investigations of FIFA--the international soccer governing body, Thursday June 15, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

NEW YORK (AP) — A former Swiss banker told a U.S. judge on Thursday that he managed a web of fraudulent bank accounts that concealed bribes in the sprawling scandal engulfing FIFA, the international soccer governing body.

Jorge Arzuaga, an Argentine who worked in Zurich for Credit Suisse Group AG and Julius Baer Group Ltd., made the admission during his guilty plea in a federal court in Brooklyn on charges he participated in a money laundering conspiracy.

Arzuaga, 56, described a scheme to set up the accounts at the behest of Julio Grondona, the president of the Argentinian soccer association and other soccer officials. Grondona, a onetime senior FIFA official, died in 2014.

Arzuaga said he knew money deposited in the accounts was being used to bribe soccer officials who controlled lucrative marketing rights.

In exchange for channeling the bribes through multiple bank accounts, the banker collected about $1,046,000 in bonuses, prosecutors said. He agreed to forfeit that amount as part of plea agreement.

“I’m ashamed and I wish I could express in words what I feel,” he said. “I’m deeply sorry for what I did.”

U.S. prosecutors following a vast money trail have brought charges against more than 40 soccer officials, marketing executives and other associates from across the globe. Following a raid in Switzerland that resulted in the first round of arrests in 2015, they said the plot involved more than $150 million tied to the award of broadcasting and hosting rights for the World Cup and other tournaments over a 24-year period.

“By facilitating the flow of bribe money through the Swiss and American banking systems, the defendant provided a critical service to those involved in corruption in international soccer,” acting U.S. Attorney Bridget Rohde said in a statement following Arzuaga’s plea.

Prosecutors in Switzerland have also been investigating. FIFA has also conducted internal investigations of corruption and self-dealing that led it to ban its former president, Sepp Blatter, and longtime secretary general, Jerome Valcke.

Credit Suisse and Julius Baer are among banks in Switzerland to acknowledge they’ve been helping prosecutors.

Arzuaga was freed on $1.5 million bond. His sentencing was set for Jan. 4.

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