Witness: Men accused of bribes negotiated sale to Qataris
NEW YORK (AP) — A sports marketing company whose owners have been charged with bribing top soccer officials tried to negotiate a sale to an entity associated with Paris Saint-Germain team president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, a witness testified Tuesday in federal court.
As the second week of testimony finished in the trial of three former presidents of South American governing bodies, the son of the ex-head of Ecuador’s soccer federation gave an emotional account of how he laundered $2.8 million for his father, who is under house arrest in Quito after receiving a 10-year sentence for corruption.
“This is the hardest moment of my life,” said Jose Luis Chiriboga, a soccer agent, recalling how his father, Luis, told him: “Sorry, son, I destroyed your life.”
Santiago Pena, a former executive of the Argentina-based Full Play Group, testified that he spent a lengthy period of time on secret negotiations called the “New York project,” given the name because the deal for 51 percent of Full Play was valued at $212 million, and 212 is a New York City telephone area code.
Pena said the talks with Al-Khelaifi and the sovereign wealth fund Qatar Sports Investments ended on May 27, 2015, when U.S. prosecutors unsealed indictments against Full Play’s controlling principals, the father and son Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, for racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy. They were charged for alleged payments to soccer officials in the Americas for broadcast and marketing contracts.
Al-Khelaifi and Qatar Sports would have had the right to buy an additional 19 percent at a later date, Pena said.
Al-Khelaifi is a criminal suspect in Switzerland for bribery linked to Qatar-owned BeIN Sports’ broadcast agreements with FIFA for 2026 and 2030 World Cup rights in the Middle East and North Africa. He met on Oct. 25 with Swiss prosecutors in Bern.
Pena said that only he, Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, and Full Play accountant Sergio Rabinovich were aware of the negotiations. Pena testified that after the indictments were made public, he deleted emails discussing the potential sale.
“I did it in order to protect the company,” he said.
Hugo and Mariano Jinkis have not been extradited to the U.S., and Pena said they remain in Argentina. Pena reached an agreement this year with U.S. prosecutors to testify in exchange for not being charged.
“I always considered myself a completely small fish in this issue,” he said.
QSI and the BeIN media group said in a statement that “Qatar regularly looks at investment with their funds. This investment was proposed and considered, after review it was decided not to pursue. This happens very often.”
Juan Angel Napout, the ex-president of Paraguay’s soccer federation; Jose Maria Marin, the former president of Brazil’s soccer federation; and Manuel Burga, the ex-head of Peru’s soccer federation, are on trial in federal court in Brooklyn for racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy.
Pena, who worked for Full Play from 2009-15, testified about a ledger he kept of payments that the Jinkises directed be made to top soccer officials. He said he knew only of what they told him were amounts owed to soccer officials. Pena said Napout was to be paid in cash, not by wire transfer, so he had no knowledge if any money was received.
“I simply wrote down the commitments based on other negotiations,” Pena said.
Jose Luis Chiriboga, 39, testified that his father asked him to use his account at Biscayne Bank in a Miami suburb to receive wire transfers from Full Play and one of its associated companies, Cross Trading.
“It was my father asking. I couldn’t say no,” he said.
When the bank asked questions, Jose Luis Chiriboga said, Pena produced a pair of sham contracts detailing consulting work that never was performed. Chiriboga was in Amsterdam when the first FIFA indictments were unsealed and said he thought to himself, “I’m screwed.” Chiriboga said Biscayne later closed the account and he had payments sent to his accounts at Chase and HSBC.
After returning to Ecuador and hiring a Houston-based lawyer, Chiriboga returned to the U.S. and on June 15 had just landed after midnight in Los Angeles on a flight from Las Vegas as he prepared to go to Leon, Mexico. He said federal agents met him as he exited the plane and questioned him about Full Play and the sham contracts, and he initially lied and claimed he did perform consulting work.
He said the soccer scandal weighed on him and he later agreed to give truthful testimony in exchange for not being prosecuted. Chiriboga forfeited a Miami apartment he bought with about $400,000 of the laundered money.
“Ever since May 27, 2015, FIFA-gate has been in my head 23 hours a day,” he said.
While Chiriboga had no direct knowledge of Napout accepting money, he said his father told him that Napout sent his driver to Buenos Aires to pick up cash from Full Play. He said it was difficult to testify in front of the three defendants, whom he knew for years and had joined in attending games.
In other testimony Tuesday, James Haggerty of Bank of America and Federal Reserve Bank of New York Vice President Sean O’Malley explained wire-transfer records, and Daniel Huntley of Hilton Worldwide Holdings and Jack Tamburello of Marriott International detailed Napout’s reservation records.
AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report.