South America football corruption trial begins in NY

Mindy Sparks
November 14, 2017

Three former South American soccer officials went on trial Monday in a scandal that's shaken the sport's governing body, with US prosecutors accusing them of taking millions of dollars in bribes and defense lawyers portraying them as innocent bystanders to corruption.

Juan Ángel Napout, formerly president of the South American soccer governing body Conmebol and Paraguay's soccer federation, Manuel Burga, former president of Peru's soccer federation and José Maria Marin, the former president of Brazil's soccer federation are on trial in federal court in Brooklyn.

The case is the first to go to trial in an global crackdown on Federation Internationale de Football Association that began with a predawn police raid at a luxury Zurich hotel in May 2015. Since then over 40 officials and marketing executives have been charged by USA authorities with 23 already pleading guilty.

Assistant US Attorney Keith Edelman told jurors that the three men were part of a conspiracy to take bribes from sports marketing companies in exchange for lucrative marketing rights to soccer tournaments, including the Copa America and Copa Libertadores. The officials are accused of regularly taking six figure bribes.

Some of the bribes were arranged in Miami in the spring of 2014, when worldwide soccer officials announced that Copa America was coming to the USA for the first time, Edelman said.

"By all appearances it's a proud moment in the history of the game". There are drinks, press conferences but lurking under the surface are lies, greed, corruption, ' he said. "Some of these officials had other reasons to celebrate, they had agreed to receive millions of dollars in bribes regarding the tournament". The evidence against them includes ledgers kept by the executives who paid the bribes, records of wire transfers and the testimony of other people who have been charged. Marin, Edelman said, had received "millions into a United States bank account". "True or not?" Marin said while negotiating a bribe in 2014, according to hours of recordings collected by investigators.

None of the lawyers for the former officials denied that there was corruption in global soccer, but all told jurors that their clients had not taken part.

Twenty-four defendants have already pleaded guilty, and two of them were last month sentenced to jail.

Silvia Pinera-Vazquez, an attorney for Napout, painted a picture of the US government "making up its mind that Mr. Napout was dirty because he was the president of Conmebol and working backwards" to find evidence of the charges. The case against Marin, Napout and Burga will further expose the seamier side of the sport.

Prosecutors then "left it to you to sort out", Fort Lauderdale-based Udolf told the jury, gesturing enthusiastically while pacing at the podium from which he delivered his opening statement. "But Manuel Burga is not one of them", Udolf said.

Lawyer Charles Stillman cast his powerful client Marin, 85, as a clueless child "picking daisies" in a youth soccer league while the scheme went on around him. "Marin was not one of them", he told the jury.

FIFA's World Cup is the globe's most-watched sporting event and generates billions of dollars in sponsorship and broadcasting rights. "It's a passion, a way of life".

The trial is due to last five to six weeks, and prosecutors are expected to present 350 000 pages of evidence and dozens of witnesses. All three defendants face extensive prison time if found guilty.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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