South American soccer officials go on trial

Elias Hubbard
November 14, 2017

This combination of photos shows Juan Angel Napout (left), Manuel Burga (centre), and Jose Maria Marin. But at pretrial hearings, they've characterized the government evidence as weak and misleading.

Their trial is the first in a sprawling federal corruption investigation of Federation Internationale de Football Association that was announced in May 2015 after several officials were arrested during a morning raid on a hotel in Zurich. Napout, Marin, and Burga are the only defendants in the case that didn't plead guilty once the US extradited them.

They were at the St Regis Hotel in Florida to launch the 2016 centenary edition of the Copa America, which would be staged in the United States for the first time.

The charges are connected to bribes that prosecutors say the defendants negotiated while they held executive positions, but one defendant's attorney argued that they stem from an American vendetta against soccer. "But lurking under the surface are lies, greed and corruption".

"That's because some of those... officials had other reasons to celebrate".

"These defendants cheated the sport in order to line their own pockets", Edelman told the panel of 12 jurors in Brooklyn federal court, saying the money that the well-heeled former officials are accused of taking was meant to buy equipment and promote youth and women's soccer leagues.

Prosecutors say the defendants used shell companies, offshore accounts and bagmen to keep their dealings secret.

The evidence against them includes ledgers kept by executives who made the payments and records of wire transfers. The jury was sworn in anonymously after attempts influence the outcome of the case were reported to the judge.

The case is the first to go to trial since the scandal emerged more than two years ago.

Sepp Blatter, president for 17 years, and other officials were ousted as the full scale of the problem emerged. "People can get pretty darn creative under those circumstances".

'Rather than fix the harm done to the sport and its institutions, however, these conspirators engaged in the same unlawful practices that had enriched their predecessors, ' says the indictment.

Of the more than 40 defendants charged by American authorities in the far-reaching case, Mr. Burga, Mr. Napout and Mr. Marin are the only ones who have been extradited to the United States and who continue to maintain their innocence. Napout, 59, presided over the Paraguayan federation and was FIFA's president of South America's governing body. Recordings appear to corroborate prosecutors' case against him.

"It's about time to have it coming my way".

Charles Tillman, defence counsel for Marin, said his client was only ever an interim president of the Brazilian national federation, selected because he was the oldest vice president when the incumbent stepped aside. "Do not convict him because others have behaved wrongly".

'Marin was often aside, not participating in what was occurring, ' he said.

In his opening statement, Keith Edelman, US assistant attorney, said the case against the three defendants would focus on the way TV, sponsorship and marketing rights were sold for the two South American tournaments, the Copa America and the Copa Libertadores.

Juan Ángel Napout of Paraguay, José Maria Marin of Brazil, and Manuel Burga of Peru-all former heads of their respective countries' soccer federations-are mounting a defense against charges of conspiring to commit financial crimes including racketeering and money laundering, BuzzFeed reports. Prosecutors have also obtained about 20 other guilty pleas.

"The witnesses they call are probably some of the most corrupt people on earth", Burga's attorney Bruce Udolf said.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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