Football: The glitzy lives of S American federation bosses

Brazilian Football Confederation president Marco Polo Del Nero being kissed by a 24-year-old model, Katherine Fontenele, aboard his yacht.
PHOTO: Instagram @Katherine Fontenele

SAO PAULO - When Brazilian Football Confederation president Marco Polo Del Nero was pictured aboard his yacht being kissed by a young model, he could never have imagined the photo would become part of a corruption investigation into South American football.

A year later, that kiss has vanished from the Instagram page of Katherine Fontenele, the 24-year-old model whose nude photo had recently graced the cover of Brazilian men's magazine Sexy.

But the Internet never forgets, and the snapshot has come back to haunt the 74-year-old football honcho, who was one of 16 people indicted by US authorities this month in the spiralling corruption scandal shaking FIFA.

That love birds' outing on his 16-meter (52-foot) yacht returned from the past when a Brazilian Senate commission carrying out its own investigation into dirty dealings in the national sport announced it was requesting access to the bank and telephone records of Del Nero's ex-girlfriends.

Lawmakers suspect the yacht, My Way - which Del Nero was fond of using for champagne-soaked outings with girlfriends a third of his age - was purchased with bribes from sports marketing company Klefer, which is now in the cross-hairs of both the US and Brazilian investigations.

"Everybody saw the luxurious lives they lived," Brazilian sports journalist Juca Kfouri said of the men who run the so-called "beautiful game" here.

"They flew around in private planes, jets, helicopters. They had mansions in the best neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro... Nobody ever doubted where that money was coming from." Del Nero's wealth has allegedly expanded immensely since 2012, the year his ally Jose Maria Marin took over as CBF president.

Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo recently reported his real estate holdings have expanded by 175 percent since the arrival of Marin - who was himself indicted by US authorities in May, paving the way for Del Nero to succeed him.

Del Nero has so far escaped arrest - unlike the 83-year-old Marin, who was nabbed in a Zurich luxury hotel.

Marin, who was extradited to New York and released on US$15 million (S$21.08 million) bail, is currently under house arrest at his apartment in the swank Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

Del Nero for his part was forced to resign from FIFA's executive committee and take leave from the CBF.

"The presidents of the CBF never hid their lifestyles. They believed the impunity they enjoyed for so many years would last forever. It's disgraceful for the Brazilian authorities that the FBI had to come and investigate," said Kfouri.

The master of turning power to wealth in the footballing world is Ricardo Teixeira, the CBF's president for 23 years and another of the 16 Latin American football officials indicted this month.

"If you had to define 'craftiness,' in the good sense of the word, you'd point to Ricardo Teixeira," his ex-father-in-law, long-time FIFA president Joao Havelange, once said of him.

Teixeira, who moved to a US$7.5-million mansion in Miami after standing down as CBF president in 2012, is now back in Brazil, which does not extradite its citizens.

But the excesses weren't limited to Brazil.

Of the 10 South American football federation presidents in office in 2013, just one has not been implicated in corruption by the FBI: Uruguay's Sebastian Bauza.

The last three presidents of South American confederation CONMEBOL have all been arrested in the probe, along with the presidents or former presidents of the Venezuelan, Bolivian, Peruvian and Ecuadoran federations.

Those targeted include Chilean federation ex-president Sergio Jadue, who is collaborating with US investigators after leaving the country under police escort.

He left behind a new US$700,000 mansion and a meteoric rise that took him from the front office of a humble local club to the vice presidency of CONMEBOL.

Football officials detained as US corruption probe rocks FIFA

Also cooperating with the Americans is Luis Bedoya, the "tsar" of Colombian football, a former clothing salesman who bought a dozen luxury properties during the nine years he led the Colombian Football Federation, according to a report by a local news magazine.

South Americans are meanwhile left hoping their next generation of football leadership will restore the tarnished glory of a continent that has won nine World Cups and whose stars continue to light up the best leagues in the world.