FIFA bribery trial due to kick off in New York court

Reuters , Monday 6 Nov 2017

Fifa Logo (Photo: Reuters)

More than two years after U.S. prosecutors unveiled a sweeping corruption case that rocked FIFA, soccer's world governing body, three former officials linked to the organization are due to face trial on graft charges on Monday in a New York court.

Selection of jurors is scheduled to begin before U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen in Brooklyn. On trial Manuel Burga, former president of Peru's soccer federation; José Maria Marin, the former president of Brazil's soccer federation; and Juan Ángel Napout, formerly president of the South American soccer governing body CONMEBOL and of Paraguay's soccer federation.

U.S. prosecutors have accused the three of taking bribes and kickbacks in connection with the sale of media and marketing rights to Copa America and Copa Libertadores tournaments, international competitions organized by CONMEBOL.

The trial is part of a sweeping criminal probe in which U.S. prosecutors have charged 42 people and entities. Prosecutors have described a widespread culture of corruption around the awarding of media and marketing rights to soccer games throughout the world. Burga, Marin and Napout are the first of the people charged to go to trial.

Twenty-four people have pleaded guilty, most of them since the probe was announced in May 2015, though the first pleas came in 2013. The charges against one of those people, U.S. soccer official Charles Blazer, were voided after his death in July.

"After waiting two years, Mr. Napout looks forward to his day in court," Napout's lawyer, Silvia Pinera-Vazquez, said on Friday.

Charles Stillman, a lawyer for Marin, and Bruce Udolf, a lawyer for Burga, declined to comment.

Among the defendants who have pleaded guilty in the case are Jeffrey Webb, a former FIFA vice president and president of CONCACAF, the governing body for soccer in North America, Central America and the Caribbean; and José Hawilla, accused of paying bribes to secure contracts for his sports marketing company, Traffic Group.

In October, Costas Takkas, described by prosecutors as Webb's attache, was sentenced to 15 months in prison and Hector Trujillo, a former secretary general of the Guatemalan soccer federation, was sentenced to eight months.

Other defendants have not been extradited to the United States.

Sepp Blatter, who served as FIFA's president from 1998 until he was suspended in late 2015, was not charged in the case.

Authorities in Switzerland, where FIFA is based, said in October that they were investigating potential bribery around media rights for the 2026 and 2030 World Cups.

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