FIFA Officials' Corruption Trial Begins in New York Federal Court

Rodiano Bonacci
Novembre 14, 2017

Marin is on trial for the next month and a half alongside 59-year-old Juan Angel Napout, the former president of the South American soccer confederation Conmebol, and 60-year-old Manuel Burga, a member of FIFA's development committee who controlled Peruvian soccer from 2002 to 2014.

The three men are the first to stand trial since USA prosecutors unveiled a corruption case against soccer officials around the world more than two years ago.

Each time Federation Internationale de Football Association dismissed officials suspected of corruption a new wave would take their place promising reform only to continue lining their pockets, reads the criminal complaint against the defendants. Napout, Marin, and Burga are the only defendants in the case that didn't plead guilty once the US extradited them.

It should have been a "proud moment", the prosecutors said. 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. "There are drinks, press conferences but underneath the surface are lies, greed, corruption".

The trial will focus on how marketing and sponsorship rights were sold for two major South American tournaments, the Copa América and the Copa Libertadores, as well as the Brazilian domestic tournament Copa do Brasil. "Some of these officials had other reasons to celebrate, they had agreed to receive millions of dollars in bribes regarding the tournament". The trio then used US financial institutions to funnel millions of dollars to secret offshore accounts, prosecutors allege. "True or not?" Marin said while negotiating a bribe in 2014, according to hours of recordings collected by investigators.

The defense lawyers - emphasizing the sprawling web of relationships in worldwide soccer and the long arm of American justice - urged the jury not to jump to conclusions about their clients simply because of their associations with convicted criminals.

A key government witness, Argentinian-Italian marketing executive Alejandro Burzaco, got a "sweetheart deal" after he "turned himself in and began telling stories", said Silvia Pinera, an attorney for Napout. "What this case is about is that the government decided that everyone in the sport is guilty".

Burga's attorney Bruce Udolf accused the government of using "too broad a brush" and sweeping up "lower-level people like Manuel under this RICO umbrella".

"They've been here for years on our dimes", Pinera told the jury.

"They've made a lot of righteous charges against a lot of bad people".

"If you've ever watched kids playing soccer, there are always one or two, they're standing there but they're not really playing", Charles Stillman, Mr. Marin's lawyer, said, likening his 85-year-old client to a clueless bystander. One woman chosen as a juror told Chen that a demonstrator said soccer fans worldwide consider what emerges at the trial to be "very important", adding, "Internationally, it's huge".

"He's like one of the youngsters off to the side, looking around, picking up daisies, while the others are running around, full steam ahead", Stillman said of Marin, who once played soccer professionally in Brazil. "It's a passion, a way of life".

Their trial is expected to last five or six weeks. All three defendants face extensive prison time if found guilty.

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