Soccer corruption trial continues as FIFA gathers in Russia
When soccer officials gather this week in Russia for the World Cup draw, some will have a wary eye on reports from a New York courtroom.
FIFA leaders will be joined by delegations from 32 World Cup teams as guests of President Vladimir Putin on Friday evening in Moscow. They await the match schedule of soccer’s greatest event, which kicks off next June.
At the same time as a one-hour show in Putin’s presence at the State Kremlin Palace, it will be Friday morning in Brooklyn, and the third week of testimony draws to a close in a soccer corruption trial already revealing more secrets and alleged criminality of officials linked to FIFA.
The integrity of Russia’s World Cup bid has been questioned since a widely discredited FIFA executive committee voted in 2010, though its name is all-but absent so far in court. The 2022 World Cup host Qatar, however, has kept cropping up in each of the first two weeks, even though the three South American former soccer leaders on trial did not vote in FIFA’s double choice.
Here is a look at the current talking points in the trial:
The three men deny charges they took part in a 24-year scheme involving at least $200 million in bribes paid by marketing firms in exchange for lucrative broadcasting rights for prestigious tournaments. They are:
— Jose Maria Marin (Brazil): Former president of the Brazilian soccer federation arrested in a raid on a hotel in Zurich on the May 2015 day that shook FIFA.
— Juan Angel Napout (Paraguay): Arrested in a second wave at the same luxury hotel in December 2015. As the FIFA vice president for South America, Napout was portraying himself as an agent of anti-corruption reform before being indicted.
— Manuel Burga (Peru): Former Peruvian soccer federation president and below the top-tier of South Americans who had influence at FIFA. Also indicted in December 2015, and arrested in his native Peru.
The star witness in the first week in court was also among the first indicted people in May 2015: Alejandro Burzaco, the former head of an Argentine sports marketing company, pleaded guilty to get a reduced sentence.
In the second week, two prosecution witnesses testified in deals to avoid prosecution.
Santiago Pena worked for Argentina-based Full Play Group, which held marketing rights to South American qualifying games for the World Cup, the Copa America and Copa Libertadores tournaments. His bosses, father and son Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, were indicted in May 2015. They have avoided extradition to the U.S., and Pena said they remain in Argentina.
Jose Luis Chiriboga is a soccer agent who admitted laundering $2.8 million for his father, former Ecuador soccer federation president Luis Chiriboga. He was convicted of money laundering last year in his home country. Jose Luis Chiriboga said he forfeited a $400,000 Miami apartment in his non-prosecution deal.
2022 WORLD CUP
Pena said his Full Play bosses asked him to keep a ledger of off-the-books payments to soccer officials, including South American soccer federation presidents. Two payments Pena said were labeled “Q2022” — an apparent but unexplained reference to World Cup host Qatar.
A $750,000 payment went to Rafael Esquivel, the former Venezuelan soccer leader. Esquivel was arrested in Zurich in May 2015, and has pleaded guilty to various conspiracy charges.
Another “Q2022” payment was for $500,000 to Luis Chiriboga. Neither had a vote when FIFA picked World Cup hosts.
QATARI PERSON OF INTEREST
It is a difficult season for Qatari soccer and television executive Nasser Al-Khelaifi, even as the French club he presides over, Paris Saint-Germain, emerges as a Champions League contender.
Last week, Al-Khelaifi’s role in a Qatar-backed potential deal to buy a majority stake in Full Play was detailed. The deal was dropped in May 2015 when Full Play’s controlling partners were indicted.
In October, Swiss federal prosecutors unsealed a criminal proceeding against Al-Khelaifi for suspected bribery linked to Qatar-owned beIN Media Group’s agreement with FIFA for some 2026 and 2030 World Cup broadcast rights. He denied wrongdoing and was later questioned about allegedly providing an Italian luxury villa for a top FIFA official to use.
Pena testified that lengthy negotiations involved Al-Khelaifi and Qatar Sports Investments, the sovereign wealth fund which owns Paris Saint-Germain. It was called the “New York project,” because a 51 percent stake was valued at $212 million, the same three digits as the New York City telephone code.
QSI confirmed the talks, saying it was one of many such deals it evaluated that did not happen.
Another potential Full Play deal lapsed in May 2015 involving Nike and rights to provide kits for Chile’s national team, Pena testified. He said the agreement would have included payments for soccer officials.
CAR BRANDS CODE
Corrupt South American soccer officials were given code names of car manufacturers in the Full Play ledge of payments, witness Pena said of his Excel spread sheets.
Napout was “Honda” and his fellow defendant Burga was “Fiat.” ″VW” was the tag for Carlos Chavez of Bolivia
A former Beatle also came up in testimony. Pena testified that more than $10,000 was deducted from an amount owed to Napout in 2010 as credit for Paul McCartney concert tickets provided to him.
Status of FIFA cases: https://www.justice.gov/usao-edny/file/799016/download
More AP FIFA coverage: www.apnews.com/tag/FIFA