Paraguay president strips regional football confederation of immunity

ASUNCION (Reuters) - Paraguay's president ratified a new law stripping the headquarters of South America's CONMEBOL football confederation of its immunity, paving the way for possible police raids on the complex as the investigation into graft in world football deepens.

President Horacio Cartes' endorsement of the legislation was published in Paraguay's official gazette on Thursday. Officials from CONMEBOL were not immediately available for comment.

The law to revoke immunity was first presented to Congress days after U.S. Justice Department officials indicted 14 current and former football officials and corporate executives on a raft of corruption charges.

Among those indicted was Nicolas Leoz, a Paraguayan national and former president of CONMEBOL, and Uruguayan Eugenio Figueredo, who ran CONMEBOL for a year after Leoz. They and other top officials in Latin American football are accused of involvement in a criminal enterprise involving more than $150 million (£96 million) in bribes.

The quasi-diplomatic status was granted to the sprawling 98-acre (40-hectare) complex by the government in 1997 and had prevented police and prosecutors from conducting searches of it.

The lifting of the legal shield around CONMEBOL's physical space will allow police to scour the complex for documents and files that might aid the U.S. investigation.

However, it is unclear whether the legislation would stand up to challenges over documents and electronic files created before the new law became active. The draft bill makes no reference to retroactive powers, according to a legislator who drafted the law, raising the specter of legal disputes over what might be permissible in court.

Leoz is now under house arrest in a wealthy suburb of the Paraguayan capital, Asuncion. Figueredo is in detention in Switzerland.

(Reporting by Daniela Desantis; writing by Richard Lough, editing by G Crosse)

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