Spanish government ready to take over soccer

FILE - In this Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016 file photo, Angel Maria Villar Llona chairs a UEFA meeting in Zurich, Switzerland. As FIFA’s senior vice president with 19 years’ experience on world soccer’s decision-making body, Angel Maria Villar is one rung down the ladder from Infantino. The 67-year-old Villar was arrested on Tuesday, July 18, 2017 along with his son whose business ventures he is accused of helping to profit from matches arranged for 2010 World Cup winner Spain. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

BARCELONA, Spain — With Angel Maria Villar in jail, the Spanish government is ready to step in and take control of soccer.

Spain's sports authority is seeking the temporary removal of Villar, the longtime president of the Spanish Football Federation and FIFA's senior vice president, after his arrest and imprisonment in an anti-corruption investigation.

Inigo Mendez de Vigo, minister of education, culture and sport and the government's spokesman, said Friday that the government is prepared to take charge of the operations of the federation so Spanish soccer is not harmed by the scandal.

"What we want is to guarantee the complete normalcy of the institution when its president and vice president are in prison because of a judge's decision (to deny them bail)," Mendez de Vigo said. "We want to send a message to the big family of football so everyone knows that we are taking steps."

The Higher Council of Sports said Thursday that it will ask the country's administrative court for sports to open a disciplinary procedure against Villar and three others.

After learning of the court's decision, the council said it plans to call a meeting of its own executive committee to agree on the temporary suspension of Villar and the other federation executives. Mendez de Vigo said that meeting of the Higher Council of Sports will be on Tuesday.

The Spanish federation is in charge of the national men's and women's national teams, the Copa del Rey competition, setting the calendars of the club competitions, and the appointment of referees, among other areas. It does not run the top two divisions of the Spanish men's league nor the women's league.

The arrest of Villar and the three others forced the announcement of the league calendar to be pushed back until Friday at the federation's headquarters in Las Rozas, which was raided by police four days ago.

Those raids, along with several regional federations and private properties, culminated in the arrests of Villar, his son Gorka Villar, federation vice president Juan Padron, and the secretary of the regional soccer federation of Tenerife, Ramon Hernandez.

National Court judge Santiago Pedraz questioned all four suspects on Thursday. Afterward, he denied bail for the Villars and Padron. The judge set bail for Hernandez at 100,000 euros ($116,000).

A state prosecutor accused the four officials of improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption and falsifying documents.

The elder Villar is also a vice president of UEFA. As president of the Spanish federation since 1988, he was in charge when the country won the 2010 World Cup and European Championships in 2008 and 2012.

Judge Pedraz said the 67-year-old Villar is suspected of misappropriating private and public funds received by the federation "at least since 2009."

In a 44-page ruling that included several quotes from phone taps carried out by the Guardia Civil, 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 says that Villar used his control of friendly matches of the Spanish team 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.

Villar has 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. Justice Department. He was singled out for questionable conduct in the 2014 FIFA report on the World Cup bidding process.

Two weeks ago, he answered a judge's questions as part of an investigation into accusations brought by the Higher Council of Sports that his federation had committed fraud in the misappropriation of 1.8 million euros ($2 million) that was destined for humanitarian relief in Haiti.

The president of the Spanish soccer league, Javier Tebas, is a longtime critic of Villar. On Friday, he said that the federation needs to be purged.

"Villar is history for Spanish football. Now we have to get rid of 'Villarismo,'" Tebas said. "More tentacles will come out, but we need to let some fresh air in. It doesn't matter if Villar is no longer around if the system of corruption continues."

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