MADRID, July 19, (AFP): Angel Maria Villar’s future as the head of the Spanish football federation was in serious doubt on Wednesday following his arrest as part of a vast anti-corruption probe.
Villar, his son Gorka Villar, and several Spanish federation executives were detained by police in a series of early morning raids on Tuesday on suspicion of embezzlement, fraud and collusion.
The investigation focuses on allegations that profits from international matches were skimmed.
Investigators were also probing whether national federation funds had been used to bribe regional officials to vote for Villar as federation president, according to Spanish media reports.
“The list of accusations…really surprises me,” the head of Spain’s government sports council, Jose Ramon Lete, said during an interview with news radio Cadena Ser. Spain’s Court of Sport (TAD) could open a disciplinary proceeding against Villar, who was re-elected unopposed in May to his eighth four-year mandate, he added.
The sports council “through its president or a commission” could then request that Villar be suspended from his post, he added.
Villar, 67, a senior vice president of FIFA, has headed the Spanish federation since 1988.
Under his watch Spain became one of the dominant forces in world football, winning two European championships and the 2010 World Cup.
But his critics say his period in charge has also been undermined by ethical questions and an autocratic management style.
Three major Spanish newspapers published editorials on Wednesday calling for term limits to be placed on the presidency of the football federation.
“Twenty-nine years exercising absolute control over an organisation are too much and it creates a toxic atmosphere where there is a high risk of contamination by corruption,” conservative ABC wrote. Center-left El Pais said the arrests should be a “first step for a reform and complete regeneration of football institutions.”
“For Villar, the eternal president, this is the end. It should have happened earlier,” the newspaper added in its editorial.
Villar, a former acting president and current vice president of European football governing body UEFA, spent the night in prison while he waits to be questioned by a judge, most likely on Thursday.
The investigation focuses on ten friendly matches which the Spanish national team played between 2010 and 2013 after it won the World Cup in South Africa when its cache was highest, sports daily AS reported.
The probe is also reportedly looking into whether there had been any improper channelling of football-related business to Gorka Villar, a lawyer specialising in sports law.
Cadena Ser said police were also investigating “possible cases of ticket re-sales” for Spanish national team matches.
The scandal “has done extraordinary damage to the image of Spanish football,” said Ramon Lete, the head of Spain’s government sports council.
Villar, a former Athletic Bilbao midfielder who was capped 22 times for Spain, has been dogged by ethical issues over the years.
He has been under investigation after the federation received a 1.2 million euros ($1.4 million) subsidy to set up a football academy in Haiti that was never built.
The federation returned the money but the plan is still the subject of court proceedings.
Villar was fined 25,000 Swiss francs ($25,700) by FIFA’s ethics committee in 2015 for failing to cooperate during an investigation into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively.