Frontrunner to lead Spain's embattled soccer federation suspect in corruption probe

MAJADAHONDA (Reuters) -Spain's football establishment suffered another blow on Friday after a Spanish judge declared the main candidate to take over from disgraced former football federation boss Luis Rubiales is also under investigation in a corruption probe.

Pedro Rocha had been summoned to testify as a witness on Friday at the Majadahonda court which is investigating alleged corruption, malfeasance and money laundering during Rubiales's tenure as president of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF).

But his evidence prompted the judge to halt the proceedings, declare him a suspect and instruct him to return another day to testify with a lawyer, the court said.

Rocha, who previously served as chair of the RFEF's economic commission, recently resigned as acting president to stand as a candidate in RFEF elections.

A vote is expected on May 6 but Rocha could be elected next week if he is the only candidate to get enough support to run.

He told reporters as he left the court that he had a "clear conscience" in the face of the allegations.

"I will explain myself, I don't know anything about those things," he said.

In a statement released later on Friday, Rocha said he has "no knowledge nor, therefore, any responsibility for the facts that are being investigated”.

The RFEF did not reply to a request for comment.

Rubiales resigned as RFEF president in September last year and a month later he was banned by FIFA from all football-related activity for three years for kissing player Jenni Hermoso on the lips without consent after Spain's women's World Cup triumph.

A judge has recommended he stand trial for sexual assault over the incident, a charge he denies.

Separately, Rubiales and colleagues have been under investigation since June 2022 over potential malfeasance for a deal with former Barcelona player Gerard Pique's Kosmos firm to relocate the Spanish Super Cup to Saudi Arabia in a deal worth a reported 120 million euros ($129 million).

Last month, police searched the RFEF, two executives were fired and several briefly detained for questioning, prompting world soccer governing body FIFA and its European counterpart UEFA to request a detailed update from the RFEF on the corruption probe.

Spain will co-host the 2030 World Cup along with Portugal and Morocco.

(Reporting by Elena Rodriguez, Marco Trujillo and Guillermo Martinez, additional reporting by Emma Pinedo and Fernando Kallas. Writing by Emma Pinedo, editing by Aislinn Laing and Christian Radnedge)