GENEVA — FIFA executive committee member Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay resigned Tuesday, citing health reasons, just days before rulings are expected to be announced in a World Cup kickbacks investigation.
FIFA said the 84-year-old Leoz confirmed his departure by letter, and that he would also step down as president of CONMEBOL, the South American football confederation. He will also leave his largely ceremonial position chairing FIFA’s 2014 World Cup organizing committee.
“FIFA has taken note of the formal resignation of Nicolas Leoz … for health and personal reasons,” football’s world governing body said in a statement.
Leoz, who has undergone several rounds of heart surgery, has been a member of FIFA’s board since 1998. He has been CONMEBOL president since 1986.
“This is a strictly personal decision. My mental health is very good but physically I’m not able to travel five times a year to Switzerland and two other times to Japan,” Leoz said. “I also don’t have the needed energy to stay as head of the 2014 World Cup organizing committee. I will not be able to travel to 10 cities (in Brazil) to approve stadiums. But I will continue to support FIFA and Brazil.”
Leoz, who noted he was “very tired” after travelling to Panama last week for the CONCACAF congress, said CONMEBOL officials will meet next week in Paraguay to pick his successor from South America at FIFA.
“It’s time to give way to younger officials,” he said.
The Paraguayan lawyer leaves FIFA in the same week that its ethics judge is expected to announce decisions stemming from an investigation into a longstanding financial scandal.
Leoz was identified during a Swiss criminal trial in 2008 as having received payments from FIFA’s former marketing partner ISL. The agency collapsed into bankruptcy in 2001 with debts of around $300 million. The resulting prosecution of agency executives revealed the widespread practice of buying influence from sports officials.
Five years ago, Leoz was named in court papers for receiving $130,000 from ISL. British broadcaster BBC later reported that Leoz took payments totalling $730,000.
Last year, FIFA finally published a Swiss prosecutor’s report which linked President Sepp Blatter’s predecessor, Joao Havelange, and Ricardo Teixeira, then head of the Brazilian 2014 World Cup organizing committee, to improper payments from ISL totalling $22 million.
Havelange remains FIFA’s honorary president, though his former son-in-law Teixeira resigned from football citing health problems before Switzerland’s supreme court ruled the report should no longer be kept secret.
FIFA never opened proceedings against Leoz. He can still face FIFA sanctions after it closed a loophole in its code of ethics last year which previously allowed football officials to evade disciplinary action if they resigned from their positions.
Leoz joins his former longstanding FIFA board colleagues Teixeira, Jack Warner of Trinidad and Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar in walking away from football while facing corruption allegations.
All have left since Blatter was re-elected president of FIFA in 2011 promising to repair its reputation after a series of scandals and allegations involving bribery, vote-buying and favour-seeking by members of its high command.
Leoz’s departure could help Blatter in his efforts to convince skeptics that FIFA is modernizing.
Critics have long characterized some high-ranking FIFA officials as an old boys’ network with a sense of entitlement to perks and privileges, and that allegations against some had not been satisfactorily investigated.