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Football federation president among four held in Spanish corruption probe

Spanish football federation president Angel Maria Villar has been arrested along with his son and two more executives as part of an anti-corruption probe.

The office of the state prosecutor in charge of anti-corruption said they suspect Villar, who is Fifa's senior vice president and a Uefa vice president, of having arranged matches for Spain's national team that led to business deals that benefited his son.

The state prosecutor and Spanish police said Villar, his son Gorka Villar and two other football officials were detained as raids were carried out at the federation headquarters and other properties.

Two uniformed police guarded the entrance to the federation HQ as staff went in and out of the offices near the training grounds for Spain's national teams in Las Rozas, outside Madrid.

The other two men who were arrested were Juan Padron, the federation's vice president of economic affairs who is also the president of the regional federation for Tenerife, and the secretary of the Tenerife federation.

The four men were arrested on charges of improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption and falsifying documents as part of a probe into the finances of the federations.

Fifa said in a statement: "As the matter seems to be linked to internal affairs of the Spanish Football Association, for the time being we kindly refer you to them for further details."

As part of an operation called Soule, the Guardia Civil's anti-corruption unit said it raided the national federation's headquarters, the offices of the regional federation on the island of Tenerife, and "headquarters of businesses and several private homes linked to the arrested individuals".

Police started the probe early last year after a complaint from Spain's Higher Council of Sport, the government's sports authority.

The probe led the state prosecutor's office to suspect that Villar "could have arranged matches of the Spanish national team with other national teams, thereby gaining in return contracts for services and other business ventures in benefit of his son".

The prosecutor's office said it suspects that Padron and the secretary of the Tenerife federation "favoured the contraction of business" for their personal benefit.

Inigo Mendez de Vigo, Spain's minister of education, culture and sport, told national television: "In Spain the laws are enforced, the laws are the same for all, and nobody, nobody is above the law."

The Higher Council of Sport said it will "use everything in its means to ensure that competitions are not affected" by the arrests.

Villar, 67, has been the head of Spain's football federation since 1988, overseeing its national team's victories in the 2010 World Cup and the 2008 and 2012 European Championships.

He has also been at the heart of Fifa and Uefa politics since the 1990s, and has worked closely with several international football leaders who have since been indicted by the US Department of Justice.

His son worked in recent years for South American body Conmebol as legal director then as director general for three presidents who were implicated in the American federal investigation. He left Conmebol last July.

Angel Maria Villar was a tough midfielder for Athletic Bilbao and Spain before retiring to work as a lawyer and football administrator.

He was elected to the Uefa executive committee 25 years ago, and to Fifa's ruling committee 19 years ago. He has also been an influential figure in the legal and referees committees of both organisations.

In the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests, Villar led the Spain-Portugal bid which the Fifa ethics committee briefly investigated in 2010 for allegedly arranging a voting pact involving South American voters to trade support with Qatar's bid. Russia won the 2018 contest.

Increasingly seen as a polarising figure with leadership ambitions, Villar decided against trying to succeed Michel Platini as Uefa president last year.

Before joining Conmebol, Gorka Villar was a prominent sports lawyer in Madrid. He helped represent cyclist Alberto Contador in a failed appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport against losing the 2010 Tour de France title after a positive doping test.

AP

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