Switzerland returns $40m in frozen funds to South American football federation

Money linked to corruption scandal involving former Conmebol president Nicholas Leoz and Fifa exec Eduardo Deluca

Former Conmebol president Nicolas Leoz shows trophies and medals he received during his period as president during an interview at his residence in Asuncion on June 13, 2013. Leoz admitted having received USD 130,000 from the ISMM/ISL group for the television rights in the 90s', money that he said it was employed to build four schools for native children. AFP PHOTO Norberto Duarte (Photo by NORBERTO DUARTE / AFP)

Swiss authorities have returned $40 million in frozen funds from former Fifa executives' accounts to the South American football confederation Conmebol.

The move follows corruption investigations that involved former Fifa financial executive and president of Conmebol Nicholas Leoz and former Conmebol secretary general Eduardo Deluca.

The Swiss Office of the Attorney General (OAG) announced on Wednesday that it would be returning the funds to the confederation.

"The funds forfeited between December 2019 and September 2020 amounted to around CHF 36.6 million ($40m) and were unlawfully acquired to the prejudice of Conmebol," the OAG told The National.

“As the party suffering harm within the respective criminal proceedings is doubtlessly known – the Conmebol – the forfeited funds will be returned directly to it. The restitution of funds to the party suffering harm and being entitled to them is required by law and serves to restore the lawful state.”

Leoz and Deluca were both alleged to have abused their positions to unlawfully enrich themselves and perhaps others, the OAG said.

Nicolas Leoz (R), president of the Southamerican Soccer Confederation speaks with Eduardo Deluca (L) in Asuncion, Paraguay 13 December 2001. 
Nicolas Leoz (D), presidente de la Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol, conversa con Eduardo Deluca (I) antes de la reunion del Comité Ejecutivo de la Conmebol,  el 13 de diciembre de 2001 en Luque, Paraguay, ciudad distante 14 Km de Asunción. En la reunión se resolverá el Torneo a realizarse en el año 2002 que reemplazará a la Copa Mercosur. AFP PHOTO/Norberto DUARTE (Photo by NORBERTO DUARTE / AFP)

Swiss criminal proceedings against Leoz were abandoned after his death aged 90 in August 2019, while Deluca was convicted of complicity in multiple instances of aggravated criminal mismanagement.

Last month, the OAG abandoned criminal proceedings against Deluca as Argentina conducted an investigation of its own into the matter, the OAG said.

Leoz, the most powerful man in South American football for more than two decades, was embroiled in football corruption scandals in the US, Argentina and Switzerland.

The former head of England’s Football Association, David Triesman, accused Leoz of demanding a knighthood in return for his support for England’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup.

He spent recent years under house arrest in Paraguay fighting extradition to the US on corruption charges.

Prior to his death from a heart attack, Leoz, who was president of Conmebol from 1986 to 2013, appealed against Paraguay’s decision to extradite him.

Interpol had issued a red notice for his arrest after the US charged him in 2015 with repeatedly soliciting and accepting six- and seven-figure bribes and engaging in schemes dating to 1991 that had diverted revenue from international football into his pocket.

He was also accused of accepting bribes in the late 1980s and early 2000s from a Swiss sports marketing company in exchange for awarding lucrative broadcasting contracts.

A similar Fifa trial against other executives over the awarding of World Cup broadcasting rights to Qatari-backed beIN Sport is ongoing.

Last November, Fifa’s Ethics Committee found Deluca guilty of bribery over the awarding of sponsorship contracts and fined him $2m.

Fifa’s investigation revealed sponsorship contracts worth $40m had been jointly signed by Leoz and Deluca in exchange for bribes.

Deluca, a former member of Fifa’s Confederation Cup and Fifa’s U20 World Cup, received $6.8m from the companies in bribes.

He received a lifetime ban from all football related activities last year.