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South America's CONMEBOL seeks financial redress from ISM

ASUNCION (Reuters) - South American football’s governing body CONMEBOL has opened legal proceedings in New York against International Soccer Marketing Inc (ISM) in a bid to recover $18 million paid in commission for exclusive broadcasting rights, it said on Monday.

It was the first of several legal actions CONMEBOL was planning after a U.S.-led investigation last year unearthed widespread fraudulent deals at the heart of world soccer body FIFA, the Asuncion-based CONMEBOL said in a statement.

CONMEBOL said it based its action on the fact ISM's owners had admitted in a U.S. court they had paid bribes to former CONMEBOL directors over two decades for commercial rights to the Copa Libertadores, the equivalent of Europe's Champions League.

"This is the first of several legal actions CONMEBOL will initiate in the coming weeks," Monserrat Jimenez, CONMEBOL’s Legal Director, said in the statement.

"One of the cornerstones of the new CONMEBOL is to do justice for South American football," she said. "We are committed to seek redress for damages caused by those who abused their power in the past."

CONMEBOL said it wanted to end its contractual relationship with ISM and claim damages of at least $18 million which it estimates was paid in commissions to the firm for the Copa Libertadores marketing rights since 1998.

Dozens of Latin American football officials have been indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice for taking kickbacks for the rights to top football tournaments and have been extradited to America to face trial.

Three former CONMEBOL chairmen are among those indicted, including 88-year-old Nicolas Leoz who was head of CONMEBOL for 27 years from 1986 and is under house arrest in Asuncion with an order for his extradition to the U.S.

CONMEBOL’s current president Alejandro Dominguez is leading a comprehensive reform agenda after being elected last January with a mandate to clean up South American football, seek justice and shield it from corruption and malpractice.

(Reporting by Daniela Desantis, additional reporting by Mica Rosenberg, writing by Rex Gowar; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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