Witness says official was bribed for World Cup vote

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NEW YORK (AP) A powerful soccer official from Argentina demanded bribes to vote for Qatar to host the World Cup in 2022, at one point telling Qatari officials to turn over $80 million, a witness at a U.S. trial testified.

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Former Argentine marketing executive Alejandro Burzaco told the jury on Tuesday that the official, Julio Grondona, claimed in several conversations that he was owed millions of dollars for his 2010 vote as a member of FIFA’s executive committee that helped Qatar land the soccer’s most prestigious tournament.

The account in federal court in Brooklyn appeared to back up persistent suspicions that the Qatar vote was rigged and that the influence of Grondona, a senior vice president at FIFA and head of the Argentinian football association until his death in 2014, was for sale.

Burzaco, whose testimony was to continue Wednesday, described an angry behind-the-scenes confrontation between Grondona and Qatari soccer officials at a 2011 meeting of FIFA, soccer’s governing body. The soccer official was upset over reports accusing him of corruption, he said.

Grondona started “insulting them and complaining,” Burzaco testified. “And basically, Grondona told them, you either pay me $80 million . or you issue me a letter by print or by top authorities saying that you never pay me a bribe.”

Burzaco is testifying under a plea agreement against three former South American soccer officials accused of taking bribes in a sprawling corruption investigation of FIFA. Jose Maria Marin, Manuel Burga and Juan Angel Napout have pleaded not guilty to charges they took part in a 24-year scheme involving at least $150 million in bribes that secured broadcasting and hosting rights for soccer tournaments around the globe.

More than 40 other officials and business executives been charged. Many, including Burzaco, have pleaded guilty in hopes of receiving reduced sentences.