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Florida company pleads guilty in NY to soccer bribery

New York (AFP) – A Florida media company pleaded guilty Tuesday to bribing soccer officials and agreed — with its Spanish parent company — to pay more than $24 million in fines, the latest scalps in a sweeping US prosecution of FIFA corruption.

Imagina US pleaded guilty over bribes to senior officials of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) and four Central American soccer federations to secure media and marketing rights to World Cup qualifier matches.

Imagina US agreed to forfeit $5.28 million in criminal proceeds before a federal court in Brooklyn, New York, US prosecutors announced.

Tuesday’s plea was heard by Judge Pamela Chen, who presided over the trial that convicted two ex-heads of Latin American football federations, after the United States unveiled the largest graft scandal in the history of world soccer.

Imagina US was sentenced to pay $3 million in restitution to the CFU, $1.7 million to the Honduran soccer federation, $790,000 to Guatemala’s, $600,000 to Costa Rica’s and $565,000 to El Salvador’s.

The company was also sentenced to pay a fine of $12.88 million, which parent company, Barcelona-based Imagina Media, agreed to pay on its behalf as part of a non-prosecution agreement over the involvement of one of its co-CEOs.

Executives used false invoices and contracts to disguise bribes and transmitted payments through third countries in a bid to evade detection, officials said.

One of Imagina Media’s three co-CEOs agreed to pay half a $3 million bribe that sports marketing company Traffic USA had previously agreed to pay Jeffrey Webb, a former FIFA vice president.

Webb was one of the first people arrested in May 2015 as part of the sweeping US indictment of FIFA officials. He pleaded guilty in an American court to fraud, money-laundering and racketeering, and agreed to forfeit $6.7 million.

US prosecutors have indicted 42 football and sports marketing executives for allegedly receiving millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.

Of those, 24 pleaded guilty in the United States. Two were convicted at trial, and one was acquitted after proceedings unearthed endemic criminal activity at the heart of the world’s most popular sport.

Fifteen other accused have remained in their home countries.

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