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Into 4th week of FIFA trial, prosecutors near end of case

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As the trial detailing widespread corruption in world soccer enters a fourth week, prosecutors are close to concluding their case in a Brooklyn federal courthouse.

One sleepy juror was dismissed last week, one defendant was admonished by the judge, and the FIFA president thanked American authorities.

“They do whatever they can to help us fight corruption and bribery,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said Friday at the Kremlin ahead of the 2018 World Cup draw in Moscow.

The three men on trial, when indicted and arrested in 2015, held the positions of a FIFA vice president, the head of the 2014 World Cup organizing committee, and a member of the FIFA committee allocating tens of millions of dollars in project grants.

Still, in what is often called “the FIFA trial,” it can seem that 2022 World Cup host Qatar and Nike are under equal scrutiny.

[ MORE: Premier League power rankings ]


Here is a look at the current talking points in the trial:

ON TRIAL

Juan Angel Napout, the former president of Paraguay’s soccer federation and a FIFA vice president at the time of his arrest in December 2015.

Jose Maria Marin, the 2014 World Cup organizing head who was president of Brazil’s soccer body when arrested in Zurich in May 2015.

Manuel Burga, who was head of Peru’s soccer federation when arrested in Lima in December 2015.

All are on trial for racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies and face up to 20 years in prison. The charges are linked to bribery in the award of broadcasting contracts for South American soccer competitions.

More than 40 defendants are charged in the wider case. Many have pleaded guilty to get reduced sentences.

PROSECUTION WITNESSES

Luis Bedoya was the first former elected soccer official to testify, spending Monday and Tuesday on the stand.

He was Colombia’s soccer leader and a FIFA executive committee member when pleading guilty in 2015 to racketeering and wire fraud charges. He said he accepted more than $3 million in bribes since 2007.

Bedoya said the U.S. federal government pays the apartment rent for himself and his wife, who fear returning to Colombia. His cooperation agreement with federal prosecutors lets him apply for entry into the witness protection program.

Eladio Rodriguez formerly worked for Alejandro Burzaco, the main witness in the first week, keeping track of finances and bribe payments at the Argentinian sports marketing company Torneos y Competencias.

Bribes to Marin and Marco Polo del Nero, the current president of the Brazilian Football Confederation who has been indicted, were coded “brasileiro,” according to Rodriguez. The witness forfeited more than $600,000 in his deal with prosecutors.

QATAR ALLEGATIONS

None of the defendants voted in the FIFA executive committee’s December 2010 decision to pick Russia as 2018 World Cup host and Qatar for 2022. The tiny gas-rich emirate has spent much of the past seven years denying it bought votes or acted improperly.

Still, testimony in Brooklyn court has suggested a broader Qatari plan to build influence among colleagues of FIFA voters. The three South American voters were Julio Grondona of Argentina, Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay, and Ricardo Teixeira of Brazil. Leoz and Teixeira have been indicted in the U.S., but not extradited. Grondona died in 2014.

Prosecution witness Bedoya, who replaced Grondona on FIFA’s ruling committee, testified he met a Qatari television representative in Madrid ahead of the 2010 Champions League final.

Bedoya said he was introduced by Mariano Jinkis, an executive of Argentinian marketing agency Full Play Group who has also been indicted but evaded extradition.

According to Bedoya, Jinkis said up to $15 million was available from Qatari interests to bribe South American officials who worked with the three voters. Bedoya said his Colombian soccer body supported the U.S. bid which lost to Qatar.

NIKE AGAIN

The sportswear company has twice been named in court over alleged willingness to engage in bribery when negotiating contracts to equip national teams. Bedoya said a Nike representative asked for a bribe during talks, but Colombia’s soccer federation later signed with Adidas.

Earlier in the trial, a former employee of Full Play said talks in 2015 to kit Chile’s national team included payments to soccer officials.

SECOND CAUTION

Burga was again in trouble for alleged behavior inside the courtroom.

In the first week, his apparent throat-slitting gesture at Burzaco led to restrictions on his access to a cellphone. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Pamela K. Chen admonished Burga for allegedly taking a paper clip and a pen from her clerk’s desk.

“No one, no party, nobody should be touching anything in this bench area,” Chen told him.

SLEEPY JUROR

On Thursday, Judge Chen dismissed one of the jurors for allegedly sleeping during testimony.

UP NEXT?

The court has yet to hear a witness from the third big South American marketing agency implicated in the case: Brazil-based Traffic.

One star cooperating witness could yet take the stand: Traffic boss Jose `Jota’ Hawilla. He pleaded guilty in December 2014 to racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Hawilla agreed to forfeit $151 million and wore a wire to gather evidence against former colleagues.

Hawilla’s indictment was signed by Loretta Lynch, when she was U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. Lynch unsealed the FIFA case in May 2015 as Attorney General during the final 21 months of the Obama administration.

More AP FIFA coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/FIFA

Rio prosecutors launch probe into soccer final violence

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro launched an investigation Thursday into the fan violence surrounding the Copa Sudamericana final between local club Flamengo and Argentine team Independiente.

[ SOURCE: LAFC close to signing third DP, Geraldes of Sporting CP ]

Clashes broke out on the night before Wednesday’s match at Maracana Stadium, and continued throughout the day. There was vandalism inside the stadium during the match and violence afterward, with more than 50 Flamengo supporters being detained over the two days.

The Rio prosecutor’s office said in a statement it would be questioning officials at Brazil’s football confederation, South American soccer’s ruling body, CONMEBOL, and local police about the incidents.

The statement added that “a profound investigation of the facts is needed so we can identify and punish the criminals that disguised as fans to spread chaos, fear and disorder in society.”

Major Silvio Luiz, head of policing for the final, criticized Flamengo’s handling of ticket sales.

Flamengo drew the second-leg match 1-1, and lost the final 3-2 on aggregate. The Copa is the second most prestigious club competition in South American soccer.

Ligue 1 set to use VAR starting in 2018/19 season

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With video replay technology becoming more and more prevalent in soccer across the globe, another major European league has revealed it too will join those ranks.

[ SOURCE: LAFC set to sign third DP with Sporting CP’s Geraldes ]

Ligue 1 has announced that the French top flight will begin to utilize video replay and have a video assistant referee (VAR) starting in the 2018/19 season.

Major League Soccer and the German Bundesliga are just two of the major global leagues to implement the system thus far. In MLS, the technology can be used in four instances; when goals are scored, during penalty situations, when a straight red card is given and during cases of mistaken identity.

French outlet L’Equipe wrote on Thursday that Ligue 1 would also follow a similar structure in what decisions VAR officials will be reviewable.

Spain has also announced that it will introduce VAR in 2018, ahead of the next La Liga season.

Top Premier League storylines — Week 17

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The title is looking more and more like it’s heading to Manchester, so will Tottenham be able to slow the Premier League leaders on Saturday?

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

 

Here are the four biggest storylines ahead of this weekend’s action.

Can anyone stop the Cityzens?

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

Nobody has found a way to halt Pep Guardiola‘s side yet this season in PL play, so why would that change this weekend? City remain unbeaten through 17 matches, and while Spurs enter the weekend unbeaten in its last four, Mauricio Pochettino and Co. have their work cut out. The City attack, which has scored 52 goals this season, has shown no signs slowing down during the first four-and-a-half months of play, giving Tottenham a big test defensively. Harry Kane and his 12 goals will surely have a say in the get together, but Spurs has been lacking thus far in another go-to finisher.

Will the Toffees keep rolling under Big Sam?

Everton vs. Swansea City — 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

It’s been quite the turnaround recently at Goodison Park, and Everton has the chance to extend its unbeaten streak to six games on Monday. Sam Allardyce has brought life to the Toffees as of late, with Everton scoring 11 goals over the last five matches.

Foxes aim to climb higher, while Palace shoots for safety

Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Foxes have found their footing this season, and dare I say there are some glimpses of the team that won the title two years ago? Since Leicester’s 2-0 defeat to Man City, the Foxes have looked the part of a top-tier PL side, winning four of five matches, including victories over Tottenham and Burnley. Meanwhile, Palace has made the relegation battle a very intriguing one, as Roy Hodgson and Co. sit just a point inside the bottom three. Amazingly, Palace is unbeaten in seven of its last eight matches, but the club remains in 18th place.

Clarets aim for third consecutive victory

Brighton vs. Burnley — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Clarets don’t boast a bonafide goalscorer, but Burnley looks like a well-oiled machine as Sean Dyche‘s side sits on the edge of the top four. Although the side likely won’t be pulling off a Leicester-sided feat in 2017/18, what the Clarets are accomplishing is quite amazing given the squad currently in place. Brighton has gone through its share of struggles recently, going winless in its last six matches, and scoring just three goals in that span. They’ll likely have a hard time breaking past Burnley’s tough backline.

NYCFC busy on Thursday with Abdul-Salaam, Stuver additions

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New York City FC is moving on from the club’s first-ever MLS SuperDraft selection, but they’ll be acquiring a solid defensive piece as the team continues to rebuild at the back.

[ SOURCE: LAFC finalizing deal to make Sporting CP’s Geraldes third DP ]

On Thursday, NYCFC announced a trade sending former 2015 first-round pick Khiry Shelton to Sporting KC in exchange for defender Saad Abdul-Salaam.

Shelton, who spent three seasons with NYCFC, struggled to find playing time under manager Patrick Vieira, particularly once the organization drafted England youth international Jack Harrison in 2016.

Vieira and Co. will be getting back a player also selected in the 2015 SuperDraft in Abdul-Salaam.

With the departures of Ethan White, RJ Allen and Andraz Struna this offseason, the move certainly makes sense for NYCFC, who were severely lacking at the right back position heading into this week.

NYCFC signed Malmo defender Anton Tinnerholm on Wednesday to help improve the backline.

The Eastern Conference side also added goalkeeper Brad Stuver from the Columbus Crew on Thursday, with the 26-year-old presumably serving as the backup to Sean Johnson in 2018.