MADRID – Police arrested the head of Spain’s soccer federation, throwing the leadership of the sport in the World Cup-winning nation into disarray a year before the next round of the elite championship takes place in Russia.
Federation president Angel Maria Villar, 67, as well as three other people were arrested Tuesday, the Guardia Civil police force said in an emailed statement. The other detainees include one of Villar’s sons, the federation’s vice chairman for finance, who is also head of the Tenerife soccer federation, and the secretary of the Tenerife federation, according to the statement.
The probe into Villar, who is the second-highest ranking official in world soccer, brings fresh trauma for the sport in Spain seven years after the national side won the World Cup in South Africa. Barcelona star Lionel Messi was handed a suspended 21-month jail term last year for unpaid taxes linked to image rights and Real Madrid player Cristiano Ronaldo also faces accusations he hasn’t paid all that he owes in Spanish taxes.
The investigation, which started in early 2016, is looking at possible wrongdoing linked to the handling of funds from friendly matches organized for the Spanish national team, among other alleged crimes. Investigators allege that Villar’s son benefited from commercial deals linked to the games, according to the statement.
Neither Villar or anyone else at the federation was immediately available for comment when contacted by phone. A FIFA spokeswoman referred comment back to the Spanish federation.
Police raided the federation’s headquarters, the Tenerife federation and offices and private homes of the several suspects as part of the investigation ordered by a National Court judge.
Villar, a former player who trained as a lawyer, has been president of the Spanish Federation since 1988 and also serves as vice president for UEFA, the sport’s European governing body. He’s also a first vice president of the international governing body FIFA.
The arrest of Villar, one of the most senior officials in global soccer, is likely to renew scrutiny of FIFA, which is struggling to regain its reputation following the biggest corruption scandal in the organization’s history. Villar’s status at FIFA places him just below its president, Gianni Infantino.
The Villar family’s influence stretches beyond Europe. One of his sons, Gorka Villar, was a senior official at the sport’s governing body in South America, which saw its leadership decimated following the 2015 U.S. indictment that alleged corruption dating back more than two decades. Gorka Villar, who held the title of director general, last year left the group known as Conmebol.
Villar resisted an internal investigation into allegations of corruption into FIFA’s decision to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, according to a report compiled by its former ethics investigator, Michael J. Garcia, who is now a judge on the New York Court of Appeals.
The report outlines a testy conversation between Garcia and Villar in which the Spaniard questions the investigator’s authority.
“Only by listening to the audio record of the interview can the truly disturbing nature of Mr. Villar Llona’s conduct be fully appreciated,” Garcia wrote.
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