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Two officials convicted at FIFA trial; 3rd awaits verdict

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NEW YORK (AP) Two former South American soccer officials were convicted Friday of corruption charges at the first U.S. trial stemming from the FIFA bribery scandal, while deliberations will continue next week for a third official.

A federal jury in New York deliberated a week before reaching the partial verdict.

Jose Maria Marin and Juan Angel Napout, were found guilty of the top count they faced, racketeering conspiracy. Marin, the former president of Brazil’s soccer federation, and Napout, formerly president of Paraguay’s soccer federation and of the South American soccer governing body CONMEBOL, also were convicted of wire fraud conspiracy.

But Napout was acquitted of money laundering conspiracy. And Marin was convicted on money laundering conspiracy charges, but acquitted of one charge of money laundering conspiracy.

Jurors remained undecided about the single racketeering charge against Manuel Burga, the former president of Peru’s soccer federation.

U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen immediately jailed Marin, 85, and Napout, 59, after prosecutors argued that they had the connections and the wealth to flee the U.S. to avoid prison terms she said could be more than 10 years on the racketeering charge alone.

Afterward, their lawyers said they were disappointed by the verdict.

“We’re going to continue fighting to absolve Mr. Napout,” said defense attorney Silvia Pinera.

Burga, 60, remained free on bail and was to return to court on Tuesday for further jury deliberations. His lawyer, Bruce Udolf, said his client was hopeful that the jury would clear him.

World soccer’s governing body said it is will seek compensation and a share of the cash.

FIFA said in a statement to The Associated Press that “as the jury has found a number of defendants guilty of the charged crimes, FIFA will now take all necessary steps to seek restitution and recover any losses caused by their misconduct.”

Marin, Burga and Napout had been arrested in 2015. Prosecutors accused them of agreeing to take millions of dollars in bribes from businessmen seeking to lock up lucrative media rights or influence hosting rights for the World Cup and other major tournaments controlled by FIFA.

The three were among more than 40 people and entities in the world of global soccer who faced criminal charges in the U.S. in connection with what prosecutors said were schemes involving hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks. Many of the other defendants pleaded guilty.

Their trial ended up being colored by odd twists: an unproven accusation that Burga threatened a witness; a juror booted for sleeping through testimony; word from Buenos Aires that an Argentine lawyer had killed himself there hours after being named at the trial as a bribe-taker; and the surprise testimony of a former member of the Jonas Brothers, an American pop rock band.

The government’s star witness, a former marketing executive from Argentina, Alejandro Burzaco, testified that he and his company arranged to pay $160 million in bribes over the course of several years. Some of the money was demanded by a FIFA official in exchange for helping rig a vote that gave Qatar hosting rights for the World Cup in 2022, he said.

“You’ve seen a lot of paper, some of it quite complex,” Nitze said in closing arguments. “There are cases that present mysteries to be solved – whodunits. This is not one of them.”

Prosecutors said that driven by greed, Burga took $4.4 million in bribes, Marin took $6.6 million and Napout collected $10.5 million.

The defense argued that the men were innocent bystanders framed by Burzaco and other untrustworthy cooperators angling for leniency in their own cases. Napout’s lawyer told jurors the prosecution had failed to produce records of wire transfers or large bank deposits that could prove he was receiving piles of bribe money.

“They say cash is king, but where did it go?” said the attorney, John Pappalardo. “There was not one penny they could trace to Juan.”

Marin’s lawyer called his client a clueless figurehead, saying the person making the real decisions was Marco Polo del Nero, the head of Brazil’s soccer federation. Del Nero is charged in the U.S. case but hasn’t been extradited from Brazil. FIFA suspended him from the sport Friday.

Burga’s lawyers zeroed in on evidence that ledgers by sports-marketing officials showed he hadn’t received the cash. Prosecutors said Burga, aware he was under investigation in Peru, told bribe-payers to hold onto his money and pay him later.

One witness described that listed bribes for Napout, including an entry for Paul McCartney concert tickets worth more than $10,000. After the defense questioned whether the concert actually took place, the government called Kevin Jonas to testify that he attended the show as a spectator.

Another cooperator, Brazilian businessman Jose Hawilla, agreed to wear a wire for the FBI to make recordings played at the trial.

One included a conversation he had with Marin in 2014 in which prosecutors say the defendant negotiated a bribe by saying, “It’s about time to have it coming my way. True or not?”

Hawilla responded: “Of course. That money had to be given to you.”

Burga got some unwanted attention early in the trial when prosecutors claimed he unnerved Burzaco by directing a threatening gesture at him – running his fingers across his throat in a slicing motion. The lawyer claimed his client was merely scratching his throat, but the judge took the incident seriously enough to tighten Burga’s house arrest conditions.

2 officials convicted at FIFA trial; 3rd awaits verdict

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NEW YORK (AP) Two former South American soccer officials were convicted Friday of corruption charges at a U.S. trial stemming from the FIFA bribery scandal, while deliberations will continue next week for a third official.

A federal jury deliberated a week before reaching the partial verdict in New York.

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Jose Maria Marin, of Brazil, and Juan Angel Napout, of Paraguay, were convicted of the top count they faced, racketeering conspiracy. Jurors were undecided on Manuel Burga, the former president of Peru’s soccer federation.

The three had been arrested in 2015. Prosecutors accused them of agreeing to take millions of dollars in bribes from businessmen seeking to lock up lucrative media rights or influence hosting rights for the World Cup and other major tournaments controlled by FIFA.

Marin, the former president of Brazil’s soccer federation, and Napout, formerly president of Paraguay’s soccer federation and of the South American soccer governing body CONMEBOL, also were convicted of other charges. Both were acquitted of some lesser counts.

The trial ended up being colored by odd twists: an unproven accusation that Burga threatened a witness; a juror booted for sleeping through testimony; word from Buenos Aires that an Argentine lawyer had committed suicide there hours after being named at the trial as a bribe-taker; and the surprise testimony of a former member of the Jonas Brothers, an American pop rock band.

Marin, Burga and Napout were among more than 40 people in the world of global soccer who faced criminal charges in the U.S. in connection with what prosecutors said were schemes involving hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks. Many of the other defendants pleaded guilty.

The government’s star witness, a former marketing executive from Argentina, Alejandro Burzaco, testified that he and his company arranged to pay $160 million in bribes over the course of several years until his arrest in 2015. Some of the money was demanded by a FIFA official in exchange for helping rig a vote that gave Qatar hosting rights for the World Cup in 2022, he said.

“You’ve seen a lot of paper, some of it quite complex,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sam Nitze said in closing arguments. “There are cases that present mysteries to be solved – whodunnits. This is not one of them.”

Prosecutors said Burga took $4.4 million in bribes, Marin took $6.6 million and Napout collected $10.5 million.

The defense argued that the men were innocent bystanders framed by Burzaco and other untrustworthy cooperators angling for leniency in their own cases. Napout’s lawyer told jurors the prosecution had failed to produce records of wire transfers or large bank deposits that could prove he was receiving piles of bribe money.

“They say cash is king, but where did it go?” said the attorney, John Pappalardo. “There was not one penny they could trace to Juan.”

The lawyer for Marin, who is 85, called him a clueless figurehead, saying the person making the real decisions was Marco Polo del Nero, the head of Brazil’s soccer federation. Del Nero is charged in the U.S. case but hasn’t been extradited from Brazil. FIFA suspended him from the sport Friday.

Burga, whose lawyer made similar arguments, got some unwanted attention early in the trial when prosecutors claimed he unnerved Burzaco by directing a threatening gesture at him – running his fingers across his throat in a slicing motion. The lawyer claimed his client was merely scratching his throat, but the judge took the incident seriously enough to tighten Burga’s house arrest conditions.

One witness described a secret ledger that listed bribes for Napout, including an entry for Paul McCartney concert tickets worth more than $10,000.

After the defense questioned whether the concert actually took place, the government called the musician and actor Kevin Jonas to testify that he attended the show as a spectator.

Another cooperator, Brazilian businessman Jose Hawilla, agreed to wear a wire for the FBI to make recordings played at the trial. One included a conversation he had with Marin in 2014 in which prosecutors say the defendant negotiated a bribe by saying, “It’s about time to have it coming my way. True or not?”

Hawilla responded: “Of course. That money had to be given to you.”

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.

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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

Former South American soccer officials face US bribery trial

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NEW YORK (AP) U.S. prosecutors say Brazilian businessman Jose Maria Marin was a soccer official on the take – and wasn’t always discreet about it.

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“It’s about time to have it coming my way. True or not?” Marin said while negotiating a bribe in 2014, according to hours of recordings collected by investigators.

The alleged demand for cash in exchange for steering marketing rights for major soccer tournaments to a Brazilian company will be used against Marin as he and two other former South American soccer officials become the first defendants to go to trial in a sprawling corruption investigation that has roiled FIFA, the sport’s governing body, since it was announced in 2015.

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. The case has fueled allegations of corruption in the awarding of World Cup tournaments to Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022.

The U.S. trial will begin with opening statements Monday at a federal courthouse in New York City, where investigators say illegal banking transactions related to the scheme took place. At the defense table with Marin, former president of Brazil’s soccer federation, will be Manuel Burga, former president of Peru’s soccer federation and Juan �ngel Napout, ex-president of the South American soccer governing body CONMEBOL and of Paraguay’s soccer federation.

The men have pleaded not guilty to racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies and are free on multimillion-dollar bonds with various travel restrictions.

Defense lawyers declined requests for comment. But at pretrial hearings, they’ve characterized the government evidence as weak and misleading.

Marin secured his bail bond with an apartment he owns in Trump Tower, once also home to Chuck Blazer , the disgraced American soccer executive whose admissions of corruption helped set off the global scandal. Blazer, 72, pleaded to racketeering, conspiracy and other counts, including admitting receiving payments in a $10 million bribe to support South Africa’s successful bid to host the 2010 World Cup, before he died this year.

The investigation has drawn intense media coverage in South America – so intense that U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen has taken the unusual step of withholding the identity of the jurors from the public to protect them from harassment. In U.S. courts, that is a security measure more common to organized crime or terrorism cases, not financial frauds.

Documents filed by the government in advance of the trial suggest Alejandro Burzaco, an Argentinian-Italian marketing executive who has pleaded guilty in exchange for a possible sentence reduction, could emerge as a key witness.

Prosecutors say Napout, 59, and Burga, 60, were among a bloc of powerful soccer officers for CONMEBOL known as the “gang of six” when Burzaco was paying the group annual six-figure bribes in exchange for getting the organization to grant broadcasting rights for the Copa Libertadores to Burzaco’s firm.

Separately, prosecutors said in court filings, unnamed co-conspirators were shelling out about $1 million a year in bribes to Marin from the firm vying for sponsorship of the Copa do Brasil tournament from 2013 to 2022.

Prosecutors said that in 2014, Marin, who is now 85, traveled to Miami for a meeting where he told an unnamed co-conspirator it was time to pay up.

“Of course, of course, of course. That money had to be given to you,” the co-conspirator assured Marin, according to court papers quoting the recordings.

“That’s it. That’s right,” Marin said.

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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There also will be testimony about how Napout ordered electronic devices removed from his CONMEBOL office on the morning of his 2015 arrest in Zurich, Switzerland, prosecutors said in a court filing.

At another 2014 meeting involving Burzaco, the cooperating marketing executive, and other people where the bribery scheme was discussed, Burzaco made it clear he knew they were breaking the law and expressed his misgivings, the papers say of yet another recording.

“All can get hurt because of this subject,” he said. “All of us go to prison.”