Spanish Football Federation president Angel Maria Villar was arrested recently along with his son and two more federation executives as part of an anti-corruption probe. The office of the state prosecutor in charge of anti-corruption said they suspect Villar, who was FIFA's senior vice-president and an 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 both said that Villar, his son Gorka Villar, and two other soccer officials were detained while raids were carried out at the federation headquarters and other properties. Two uniformed policeman guarded the entrance to the Spanish Football Federation as staff came in and out of the offices near the training grounds for Spain's national teams in Las Rozas, just 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 that regional 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. "We have taken note of the media reports concerning the situation of Mr. Villar Llona," 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 soccer federation on the island of Tenerife, and "headquarters of businesses and several private homes linked to the arrested individuals." Police started the probe in early 2016 after a complaint was made by Spain's Higher Council of Sport, the government's sports authority. The probe led the state prosecutor's office to suspect that Angel Maria 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 they suspect that Padron and the secretary of the regional federation of Tenerife "favoured the contraction of business" for their personal benefit. Inigo Mendez de Vigo, Spain's minister of education, culture and sport, told national television moments after the raids that "in Spain the laws are enforced, the laws are the same for all, and nobody, nobody is above the law." Calls made by The Associated Press to both the Spanish Football Federation and the regional soccer federation of Tenerife went unanswered. UEFA said in a statement it is "aware of the reports regarding Mr. Villar Llona. We have no comment to make at this time." The Higher Council of Sport said it will "use everything to ensure that competitions are not affected" by the arrests.
The 67-year-old Villar has been the head of Spain's soccer federation since 1988, overseeing its national team's victories in the 2010 World Cup and the 2008 and 2012 European Championships. Villar has also been at the heart of FIFA and UEFA politics since the 1990s, and has worked closely with several international soccer leaders who have since been indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice. Angel Maria Villar was a tough midfielder for Athletic Bilbao and Spain before retiring to work as a lawyer and soccer 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 organizations. In the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests, Angel Maria 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. Villar's conduct in a subsequent wider probe of the bids was singled out in a report by then-FIFA ethics prosecutor Michael Garcia. "Villar was not willing to discuss the facts and circumstances of the case", Garcia wrote in a 2014 report that was published last month. "Moreover, his tone and manner were deeply disturbing, as the audio recording of the interview makes evident." Increasingly seen as a polarizing figure with leadership ambitions, Villar decided against trying to succeed Michel Platini as UEFA president last year. His son, Gorka, worked in recent years for South American body CONMEBOL as legal director then as the CEO-like director general for three presidents who were implicated in the American federal investigation. Gorka Villar left CONMEBOL in 2016.
Villar was denied bail and transferred from a police jail to the Soto del Real prison after being questioned by National Court judge Santiago Pedraz, who cited flight risks after detailing how Villar allegedly misappropriated private and public funds "at least since 2009." In a 44-page ruling that included several quotes from phone taps carried out by police, Pedraz detailed why state prosecutors allege that Villar used his influence as federation president to funnel private and public funds into regional federations in exchange for votes to remain in power for eight consecutive terms. The state prosecutor also suspects Villar used his control of the television rights for Spain's friendly matches to secure economic benefits for his son Gorka, a sports lawyer who has worked for CONMEBOL under three presidents who were all implicated in corruption cases. Also arrested last week was the secretary of the regional federation of Tenerife, Ramon Hernandez. Judge Pedraz denied bail to Gorka Villar and Padron, while setting bail for Hernandez at 100,000 euros ($116,000).
One week after his arrest in a corruption probe, Angel Maria Villar's three-decade reign of the Spanish Football Federation came to an end when he was suspended from its presidency. Seeing no sign that Villar was willing to step down from the post he has held since 1988, Spain's government decided to remove him in an attempt to limit the damage done to the national sport. The country's top sports authority, the Higher Council of Sport, met in Madrid and ruled to suspend Villar for one year pending the outcome of the investigation that has rocked Spanish soccer. Juan Luis Larrea has been named as interim president. Court documents indicate that besides misappropriated funds, Villar allegedly corrupted several regional federations by offering favours in exchange for votes. Council president Jose Ramon Lete said the 14-member board voted unanimously to suspend Villar and federation vice-president of economic affairs Juan Padron, also arrested in the Civil Guard's "Operation Soule." Lete said the one-year suspensions could be revised "depending on the facts that come out." The federation will hold a general assembly to determine how it will go forward without its long time boss who oversaw Spain winning the 2010 World Cup and the 2008 and 2012 European Championships. Lete also said the council decided it will request to take part in the case as an injured party, joining the Spanish league. The federation is in charge of the national men's and women's national teams, Copa del Rey, setting the calendars of the club competitions and the appointment of referees. It does not run the top two divisions of the Spanish men's league nor the women's league, which are governed by La Liga.