By Andrew Warshaw
June 30 – After somewhat of a lull, the FifaGate scandal is back in the headlines with two-time Concacaf stand-in president Alfredo Hawit spared further jail time as a US judge ruled he could return home to Honduras, four years after he pleaded guilty.
Hawit confessed in 2016 to racketeering conspiracy, two counts of wire fraud conspiracy and conspiracy to obstruct justice. He admitted to having received “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in bribes from two sports marketing companies seeking media rights for football matches and tournaments including 2014, 2018, and 2022 World Cup qualifiers.
He was banned for life in December 2016, the third CONCACAF president to be thus punished in a scandal that sent shockwaves through FIFA.
During a videoconference hearing before New York judge Pamela Chen on Monday, the 68-year-old said through an interpreter that he was “very sorry” for his crimes.
Chen said that Hawit had shown “an extraordinary acceptance of responsibility” as she sentenced him to time already spent in prison, including that served in Switzerland where he was originally arrested, for his role in accepting $1.66 million in bribes.
Chen deferred a ruling on restitution for 90 days but ordered $950,000 forfeiture to be paid by instalments. Eight further counts were dismissed.
Hawit, who was also a Fifa vice-president, was twice Concacaf’s interim president having first spent a year in the role after the disgraced Jack Warner stepped down and Barbados’ Lisle Austin was removed after just five days. He handed over to Jeff Webb but again was the go-to guy when Webb was arrested in May 2015. This time he incredibly lasted for just a few months to December 2015 when he was also arrested in Zurich at FIFA meetings.
In being allowed to return home, he was also sentenced to two years of supervised release and barred during that time from holding any position in FIFA, CONCACAF or any professional football organisation.
“I do take responsibility and I have changed considerably. I want to ask forgiveness for all those things I did back then,” Hawit said through a translator.
He is expected to be deported when the coronavirus pandemic eases and Honduras reopens its borders.
“There are no words to express how sorry I am,” he added in a written statement. “I also regret all the harm I did to soccer, which is the sport that I love… From the day of my arrest in Zurich and the time that I spent in jail and 4 1/2 years so far, I’ve suffered. I’ve felt humiliated and shamed by my behaviour, and I’m paying the price.”
The $200 million FifaGate scandal, reckoned to have been conducted over a 20-year period, has snared a string of senior executives, some of whom have died but many of whom are still awaiting sentencing, not least Webb – once touted as a possible FIFA president – and the infamous Warner who is still fighting extradition. A total of 26 officials and football related people have pleaded guilty.
Chen said Hawit did not warrant additional jail time given that he voluntarily accepted extradition, spent two months incarcerated and about four years under house arrest, and expressed remorse.
“While it is clear that Mr. Hawit faltered badly by agreeing for a number of years to take bribes of a significant amount on multiple occasions and covering that up through elaborate schemes,” Chen said, “he did recover after being caught and has since tried to make amends.”
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