November 17, 2017

South American soccer officials go on trial in NY

14 November 2017, 12:09 | Edward Lowe

Football officials on trial in New York over corruption charges

FIFA Trial Set to Begin in NY With the Trappings of a Mob Case

Emphasizing the scale of corruption that dominated soccer's global governing body for decades, defense attorneys for three indicted former Federation Internationale de Football Association officials told a jury Monday that their clients were innocent bystanders.

Marin is on trial for the next month and a half alongside 59-year-old Juan Angel Napout, the former president of the South American soccer confederation Conmebol, and 60-year-old Manuel Burga, a member of FIFA's development committee who controlled Peruvian soccer from 2002 to 2014.

They are the first defendants to go on trial since seven soccer officials were arrested at Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich in May 2015, exposing what investigators say was a quarter of a century of corruption. Since then over 40 officials and marketing executives have been charged by U.S. authorities with 23 already pleading guilty.

In his opening statement, Keith Edelman, US assistant attorney, described the scene at another luxury hotel a year earlier, when officials arrived from across North and South America for an important milestone. He added that they "did it year after year, tournament after tournament, bribe after bribe".

Marin is accused of taking bribes from a sports marketing company in return for the rights to Copa Brasil tournaments from 2015 through 2022, and of accepting bribes for the sponsorship of the Copa Libertadores, a South American club competition.

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Some of the bribes were arranged in Miami in the spring of 2014, when global soccer officials announced that Copa America was coming to the US for the first time, Edelman said.

Prosecutors haven't disclosed the names of their cooperators because of attempts, they say, to intimidate witnesses. "There are drinks, press conferences but underneath the surface are lies, greed, corruption".

"That's because some of those... officials had other reasons to celebrate". The trio then used USA financial institutions to funnel millions of dollars to secret offshore accounts, prosecutors allege.

More than 40 people have pleaded guilty to participating in a 24-year scheme involving at least $150 million in bribes tied to the award of broadcasting and hosting rights for the World Cup and other tournaments.

"They've been here for years on our dimes", Pinera told the jury.

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Bruce Udolf, for Burga, said: 'The people that the government have laid down with are some of the most despicable, corrupt people on earth'. "But they didn't find one wire transfer of dirty money into Juan's accounts".

Marin's lawyer, Charles Stillman, compared his client to a soccer player who remained on the sidelines while other, more powerful officials orchestrated the bribery plot.

"He's like one of the youngsters off to the side, looking around, picking up daisies, while the others are running around, full steam ahead", Stillman said of Marin, who once played soccer professionally in Brazil.

"It [Fifa] is kind of like the NFL or Major League Baseball but it's for soccer all around the world", Edelman told the jury.

"Soccer is a little bit more than a passion in Latin America", Miami-based Pinera-Vazquez said.

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Prosecutors are expected to call witnesses that include an owner and employee of a sports marketing company to detail how documents were shredded and a computer server scrubbed as part of a cover-up after the charges in the case were announced.

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