UEFA removes 2 soccer officials linked to criminal cases

GENEVA (AP) — A Croatian soccer official sentenced to prison in a corruption case linked to a Luka Modrić transfer was removed from a committee overseeing the European Championship, UEFA said Friday.

Damir Vrbanović lost an appeal last week against his conviction and a three-year sentence in a ruling by the supreme court of Croatia.

Vrbanović, a former executive at Dinamo Zagreb and the Croatia soccer federation, had been reappointed by UEFA to its National Team Competitions Committee in 2019 while awaiting his appeal against the conviction the previous year.

UEFA also removed former Serbia soccer president Slavisa Kozeka from its committee overseeing the 55 European member federations.

Kozeka resigned as head of Serbian soccer on Monday after being linked to a fan group with alleged ties to organized crime.

“They are no longer members of their respective UEFA standing committees,” the European soccer body said Friday of Vrbanović and Kozeka.

In the Croatian case, the conviction was also upheld for Dinamo Zagreb coach Zoran Mamić, who resigned two days before his team beat Tottenham last week to reach the Europa League quarterfinals.

The case related to millions of dollars embezzled from transfers abroad of Dinamo players, including Modrić to Tottenham in 2008 and Dejan Lovren to Lyon in 2010. Both players testified in court in 2018 and had been accused of perjury.

The embezzlement trial in Croatia led to verdicts one week ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Soccer federation vice president Zdravko Mamić fled to Bosnia-Herzegovina before being sentenced to 6½ years in prison.

Mamić was a close ally of federation president Davor Šuker, the former Dinamo and Real Madrid forward who has been a member of UEFA’s executive committee since 2015.

Despite the turmoil, Modrić captained a Croatia team with Lovren in defense to the World Cup final, losing 4-2 against France. Modrić was voted FIFA best player in the world for 2018.

Vrbanović made headlines at the tournament when, as the convicted director general of Croatia’s soccer body, he sat in the VIP section at the quarterfinals game against Russia. In the same row of seats were then-Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Medvedev and Croatia’s then-president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović.

FIFA later said there was no restriction on Vrbanović because his conviction was not final while under appeal. UEFA said in 2018 it was awaiting developments in the case before taking action.

As a former Dinamo executive, Vrbanović was a founding board member in 2008 of the European Club Association.

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