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Spain FA boss Villar and son arrested in corruption investigation

Spanish FA president Angel Maria Villar and his son, former CONMEBOL executive Gorka Villar, have been arrested with two other men as part of a corruption investigation.

A spokesman for Spain's Guardia Civil told The Associated Press that police agents raided the offices of the Real Federacion Espanola de Futbol (RFEF) early on Tuesday as part of an investigation into its finances.

The office of the state prosecutor in charge of anti-corruption said they suspect Villar, a FIFA senior vice president and a UEFA vice president, of arranging matches for Spain's national team that led to business deals that benefitted his son.

Several hours after Tuesday's arrests, police escorted Villar into the federation offices in Las Rozas, on the outskirts of Madrid. He emerged from a Guardia Civil vehicle flanked by two uniformed agents. Two policemen guarded the entrance to the federation offices near the training grounds for Spain's national teams.

The other men arrested were Juan Padron, the federation's vice president of economic affairs and president of the regional federation for Tenerife, and the secretary of that region.

Police said the four men were arrested on charges of improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption and falsifying documents as part of a probe into the finances of the federations. The raids were carried out by the Guardia Civil's anti-corruption unit as part of an operation called "SOULE."

Inigo Mendez de Vigo, Spain's minister of education, culture and sport, told national television moments after the raids that "in Spain the laws are enforced, the laws are the same for all, and nobody, nobody is above the law."

UEFA said in a statement it is "aware of the reports regarding Mr. Villar Llona. We have no comment to make at this time." The Higher Council of Sport said it will "use everything in its means to ensure that competitions are not affected" by the arrests.

Spanish newspaper El Pais reports that the investigation is being overseen by Audiencia Nacional judge Santiago Pedraz and is looking into alleged use of RFEF money to secure support from Spain's regional federations for Villar's recent re-election for an eighth consecutive term as federation president.

Former Athletic Bilbao player Villar founded Spain's players union (AFE) in 1978 before becoming RFEF chief in 1988. A strong ally of Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini for many years, the Basque became a vice president of FIFA in 2002, and was last year made acting chairman of the organising committee for the 2018 World Cup after corruption charges had cleared away many of the previous office holders in world football's governing body.

Villar's seven terms as RFEF president have brought regular allegations of a lack of transparency within the Spanish FA's finances and decision-making processes. A number of court cases have been brought over the years, but no charges ever stuck.

The elder Villar was singled out for questionable conduct in the 2014 FIFA report on the World Cup bidding process by then-FIFA ethics prosecutor Michael Garcia.

"[Villar] was not willing to discuss the facts and circumstances of the case," Garcia wrote in the report, published last month. "Moreover, his tone and manner were deeply disturbing, as the audio recording of the interview ... makes evident."

Gorka Villar stepped down as CONMEBOL director general in July 2016 after his time with the South American confederation had also brought many allegations of wrongdoing. He has also been a member of FIFA's Reform Panel.

The raid came two days before an RFEF assembly was scheduled to decide the dates for Spanish football's 2017-18 calendar, but in the wake of the arrests, the meetings were postponed.

The arrests are the latest step by Spain to crack down on financial wrongdoing in football. Last year, Barcelona forward Lionel Messi and his father were found guilty of tax fraud.

In recent weeks, prosecutors have opened tax fraud investigations into several others, including Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo and former Madrid coach Jose Mourinho. Both Ronaldo and Mourinho deny cheating on their taxes.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report

Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan

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