UEFA says jailed vice-president Angel Maria Villar resigns

Spanish Football Federation president Angel Maria Villar. (Michael Probst/AP)

GENEVA — The corruption crisis in world soccer has removed another top FIFA official.

Jailed in Spain on suspicion of financial wrongdoing as head of the Spanish football federation, Angel Maria Villar has resigned his top positions at FIFA and European governing body UEFA.

FIFA confirmed Thursday that Villar resigned as its senior vice-president. That followed UEFA’s announcement he had left its executive committee after 25 years. He was suspended as Spanish federation president on Tuesday amid a criminal investigation into allegations of corruption.

Villar exits international soccer in disgrace after rising to the No. 2 elected position at FIFA, the most senior of eight vice-presidents behind president Gianni Infantino.

Despite Infantino’s claim last year of the crisis ending for scandal-scarred FIFA, two colleagues on the ruling Council have resigned within three months under a cloud of suspicion.

"FIFA is back on track. So I can officially inform you here, the crisis is over," Infantino told FIFA member federations in May 2016 in Mexico City at his first congress since replacing Sepp Blatter.

However, Villar follows Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, who resigned in April. The Kuwait royal left FIFA three days after he was identified in a federal court case in Brooklyn as the source of bribes paid to Asian soccer officials. He denies wrongdoing.

Villar left the week after he was arrested in his native Spain, one of four football officials detained on charges of improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption and falsifying documents.

Villar’s influence had weakened since American and Swiss federal investigations of FIFA-linked corruption were revealed in 2015. Once seen as a potential UEFA presidential candidate, he could not gather support to launch a bid for the European soccer leadership one year ago.

Still, the arrest of a one-time international player turned lawyer, and former chairman of FIFA’s legal and referee committees, is another blow to the battered image of international soccer bodies.

Villar was arrested in Madrid along with his son Gorka Villar, also a lawyer and former director general of South American soccer body CONMEBOL, and two other senior Spanish federation officials.

Spain’s government suspended the 67-year-old Angel Maria Villar from the national federation presidency for one year on Tuesday. An interim replacement was appointed Wednesday.

In a statement on Thursday, UEFA said Villar had offered his resignation a day earlier "as vice-president of UEFA and member of the UEFA Executive Committee with immediate effect."

UEFA said its president Aleksander Ceferin accepted Villar’s letter of resignation and "thanked him for his many years of service to European football."

"In view of the on-going court proceedings in Spain, we have no further comments to make on this matter," UEFA said in a brief statement.

Villar was elected to the executive panel in 1992, and was UEFA’s top official for nearly a year in 2015-16 while then-president Michael Platini was suspended from duty by FIFA. Like France great Platini, Villar played for his country, then rose in soccer politics and fell due to allegations of financial wrongdoing.

UEFA said member federations can elect an executive committee replacement for Villar at its next 2018 congress, to be held Feb. 28 in Bratislava, Slovakia. At that same meeting, European officials can also elect a new FIFA vice-president. All candidates must pass an integrity check.

Villar and his son were denied bail last week and transferred from a police jail to the Soto del Real prison near Madrid after being questioned by a judge. The judge cited flight risks after detailing how Villar allegedly misappropriated private and public funds while president of Spain’s federation "at least since 2009."

Prosecutors allege that Villar used his influence to funnel private and public funds into regional federations in exchange for votes to remain in power for eight consecutive terms.

He is also suspected of using his control of the television rights for Spain’s friendly matches to secure economic benefits for his son, who worked under three CONMEBOL presidents that were all indicted for corruption in a sprawling U.S. Department of Justice case.

That same DoJ investigation implicated Sheikh Ahmad, an influential International Olympic Committee member. As head of Spanish football for almost three decades, Villar was also a board member of the Spanish national Olympic committee.

Villar’s interim replacement as head of the Spanish soccer federation, treasurer Juan Luis Larrea, stood by his longtime boss on Thursday after answering a judge’s questions at a Madrid court. Larrea said he saw no reason for Villar to also quit as president of the Spanish federation.

"I believe he considers himself innocent and he believes he doesn’t have to resign," Larrea told Spanish national television.


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