Witness says South America’s top officials were most corrupt
NEW YORK (AP) — The former president of Colombia’s soccer federation concluded South America’s three members of the FIFA executive committee during the 2010 vote that selected Qatar over the United States to host the 2022 World Cup were the sport’s most corrupt people on the continent.
Completing two days of testimony in the federal corruption trial of the former soccer heads of Paraguay, Peru and Brazil, former Colombian Football Federation president Luis Bedoya repeatedly was asked by defense lawyers about the possibility of bribes to back Qatar.
Bedoya said he and several other South American federation presidents supported the U.S. bid, but he thought Julio Grondona of Argentina, Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay and Ricardo Teixeira of Brazil voted for Qatar. Grondona was viewed as the most powerful soccer official in South America. Leoz was president of the South American governing body CONMEBOL from 1986-2013, and Teixeira was the one-time son-in-law of former FIFA president Joao Havelange.
Bruce L. Udolf, a lawyer for former Peruvian federation president Manuel Burga, asked Bedoya whether the three were the most corrupt people in the South American governing body, CONMEBOL.
“I believe so,” Bedoya said in Spanish through a translator. “I cannot prove it, but that’s what people say.”
Leoz and Teixeira have been indicted in the U.S. but have not been extradited. Grondona died in 2014.
Burga, former Paraguay federation president Juan Angel Napout and ex-Brazil federation president Jose Maria Marin are on trial for racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy.
During a lengthy courtroom exchange without the jury present, Napout’s lawyer succeeded in persuading U.S. District Judge Pamela K. Chen to admit a 2010 letter from Bedoya to Leoz stating that Colombia’s federation supported the U.S. in the FIFA vote. U.S. prosecutors allege that support of Qatar in exchange for bribes was part of a conspiracy, but not all of the more than three dozen people charged were involved in that scheme.
A member of FIFA’s executive committee from 2014-15, Bedoya pleaded guilty in 2015 to racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy, counts that could result in sentences of 20 years each. He said Monday he accepted more than $3 million in bribes from 2007-15.
Bedoya testified he feared for the safety of himself and his wife if they returned to Colombia, and he said the U.S. federal government is paying the rent for a two-bedroom apartment for the couple. His cooperation agreement with U.S. prosecutors gives him the right to apply for entry into the witness protection program.
During cross-examination by Silvia B. Pinera-Vazquez, a lawyer for Napout, Bedoya testified he spoke with several other top soccer officials about the Swiss bank account he used to receive money from Mariano Jinkis of Full Play Group, the media company Bedoya testified paid bribes to himself and others for broadcast rights to South American soccer tournaments.
Bedoya said he discussed his account with Napout, Burga and former Ecuador soccer federation president Luis Chiriboga, but did not divulge it to his own wife. Bedoya said he had no direct knowledge of Napout or Burga receiving cash or wire transfers.
Bedoya also was asked Tuesday to give details of a hotel lobby in Madrid where he said Jinkis introduced him to a Qatari ahead of the 2010 Champions League final. Bedoya said Monday that Jinkis told him then that up to $15 million in bribe money was available to South American officials in exchange for supporting Qatar’s bid for the 2022 World Cup.
Bedoya also was asked to describe the scene at a Zurich hotel when the first arrests were made in the case in May 2015.
He was followed to the witness stand by Dyan Decker, U.S. forensics leader at the accounting company PcW, who discussed records preserved from the Buenos Aires office of Torneos y Competencias. Alejandro Burzaco, that company’s former chairman, testified earlier in the trial after pleading guilty to racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy. The day’s final witness was an American Airlines employee who discussed flight records involving the defendants.