Into 4th week of FIFA trial, prosecutors near end of case
As the trial detailing widespread corruption in world soccer enters a fourth week, prosecutors are close to concluding their case in a Brooklyn federal courthouse.
One sleepy juror was dismissed last week, one defendant was admonished by the judge, and the FIFA president thanked American authorities.
“They do whatever they can to help us fight corruption and bribery,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said Friday at the Kremlin ahead of the 2018 World Cup draw in Moscow.
The three men on trial, when indicted and arrested in 2015, held the positions of a FIFA vice president, the head of the 2014 World Cup organizing committee, and a member of the FIFA committee allocating tens of millions of dollars in project grants.
Still, in what is often called “the FIFA trial,” it can seem that 2022 World Cup host Qatar and Nike are under equal scrutiny.
Here is a look at the current talking points in the trial:
Juan Angel Napout, the former president of Paraguay’s soccer federation and a FIFA vice president at the time of his arrest in December 2015.
Jose Maria Marin, the 2014 World Cup organizing head who was president of Brazil’s soccer body when arrested in Zurich in May 2015.
Manuel Burga, who was head of Peru’s soccer federation when arrested in Lima in December 2015.
All are on trial for racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies and face up to 20 years in prison. The charges are linked to bribery in the award of broadcasting contracts for South American soccer competitions.
More than 40 defendants are charged in the wider case. Many have pleaded guilty to get reduced sentences.
Luis Bedoya was the first former elected soccer official to testify, spending Monday and Tuesday on the stand.
He was Colombia’s soccer leader and a FIFA executive committee member when pleading guilty in 2015 to racketeering and wire fraud charges. He said he accepted more than $3 million in bribes since 2007.
Bedoya said the U.S. federal government pays the apartment rent for himself and his wife, who fear returning to Colombia. His cooperation agreement with federal prosecutors lets him apply for entry into the witness protection program.
Eladio Rodriguez formerly worked for Alejandro Burzaco, the main witness in the first week, keeping track of finances and bribe payments at the Argentinian sports marketing company Torneos y Competencias.
Bribes to Marin and Marco Polo del Nero, the current president of the Brazilian Football Confederation who has been indicted, were coded “brasileiro,” according to Rodriguez. The witness forfeited more than $600,000 in his deal with prosecutors.
None of the defendants voted in the FIFA executive committee’s December 2010 decision to pick Russia as 2018 World Cup host and Qatar for 2022. The tiny gas-rich emirate has spent much of the past seven years denying it bought votes or acted improperly.
Still, testimony in Brooklyn court has suggested a broader Qatari plan to build influence among colleagues of FIFA voters. The three South American voters were Julio Grondona of Argentina, Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay, and Ricardo Teixeira of Brazil. Leoz and Teixeira have been indicted in the U.S., but not extradited. Grondona died in 2014.
Prosecution witness Bedoya, who replaced Grondona on FIFA’s ruling committee, testified he met a Qatari television representative in Madrid ahead of the 2010 Champions League final.
Bedoya said he was introduced by Mariano Jinkis, an executive of Argentinian marketing agency Full Play Group who has also been indicted but evaded extradition.
According to Bedoya, Jinkis said up to $15 million was available from Qatari interests to bribe South American officials who worked with the three voters. Bedoya said his Colombian soccer body supported the U.S. bid which lost to Qatar.
The sportswear company has twice been named in court over alleged willingness to engage in bribery when negotiating contracts to equip national teams. Bedoya said a Nike representative asked for a bribe during talks, but Colombia’s soccer federation later signed with Adidas.
Earlier in the trial, a former employee of Full Play said talks in 2015 to kit Chile’s national team included payments to soccer officials.
Burga was again in trouble for alleged behavior inside the courtroom.
In the first week, his apparent throat-slitting gesture at Burzaco led to restrictions on his access to a cellphone. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Pamela K. Chen admonished Burga for allegedly taking a paper clip and a pen from her clerk’s desk.
“No one, no party, nobody should be touching anything in this bench area,” Chen told him.
On Thursday, Judge Chen dismissed one of the jurors for allegedly sleeping during testimony.
The court has yet to hear a witness from the third big South American marketing agency implicated in the case: Brazil-based Traffic.
One star cooperating witness could yet take the stand: Traffic boss Jose ‘Jota’ Hawilla. He pleaded guilty in December 2014 to racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Hawilla agreed to forfeit $151 million and wore a wire to gather evidence against former colleagues.
Hawilla’s indictment was signed by Loretta Lynch, when she was U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. Lynch unsealed the FIFA case in May 2015 as Attorney General during the final 21 months of the Obama administration.
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