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Former South American football officials face US bribery trial

November 13, 2017 4:56 AM
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Former South American football officials face US bribery trial

US prosecutors say Brazilian businessman Jose Maria Marin was a football official on the take and was not always discreet about it.

"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 football tournaments to a Brazilian company will be used against Marin as he and two other former South American football 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 fuelled allegations of corruption in the awarding of World Cup tournaments to Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022.

The US trial will begin with opening statements today at a federal courthouse in New York City, where investigators say illegal banking transactions related to the scheme took place. At the defence table with Marin, former president of Brazil's football federation, will be Manuel Burga, former president of Peru's football federation and Juan Angel Napout, ex-president of the South American football governing body CONMEBOL and of Paraguay's football 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.

Defence lawyers declined requests for comment. But at pre-trial hearings, they have characterised 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 football 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 US$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 US 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 US courts, that is a security measure more common to organised crime or terrorism cases, not financial frauds.


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