South American football officials found guilty of corruption

Juan Ángel Napout and José Maria Marin guilty of racketeering and wire fraud conspiracies

Juan Ángel Napout was found guilty on multiple corruption charges in New York City on Friday. Photograph: Stephen Yang/Reuters

Juan Ángel Napout was found guilty on multiple corruption charges in New York City on Friday. Photograph: Stephen Yang/Reuters

 

Two former South American football officials were found guilty on multiple corruption charges on Friday by a New York City jury in the first case brought to trial as a result of the US government’s sprawling investigation of Fifa.

Juan Ángel Napout, the former president of South American football’s governing body (Conmebol) and José Maria Marin, the former president of Brazil’s football federation, were both found guilty of racketeering and wire fraud conspiracies following a five-week trial in New York City.

A verdict on their co-defendant, Manuel Burga, the former head of football in Peru, is pending.

The convictions add to the 23 guilty pleas prosecutors have already been secured against individuals and entities accused of bribery in the government’s sprawling investigation of corruption at football’s governing body.

Over 40 people and companies have been charged as part of the investigation, which the US attorney’s office says remains ongoing. The case was the first to come to trial since a dramatic dawn raid at a hotel near Fifa headquarters in Zurich revealed the investigation to the public for the first time.

The trial, which lasted five weeks and saw 28 witnesses testify for the prosecution, revealed a web of corrupt practice that prosecutors say spanned several decades and resulted in at least $150 million (€126.5 million) in bribes.

The bribes paid to the defendants in exchange for the rights to the region’s premier tournaments including the Copa América and the Copa Libertadores.

Prosecutors said that between 2010 and 2016 Napout was paid a total of $10.5 million (€8.86 million), Marin $6.5 million (€5.5 million) and Burga $4.4 million (€3.7 million).

All three were charged with racketeering conspiracy, with Napout and Marin now convicted as Burga’s case remains before the jury. Napout was also convicted on two counts of wire fraud conspiracy in relation to the Copa América and Copa Libertadores bribery schemes.

Marin – who was also accused of taking bribes for the rights to the Copa do Brasil, Brazil’s domestic knockout tournament – was convicted on six counts in total.

None of the three men called any witnesses in their defence. Although lawyers for each acknowledged the bribery schemes had existed, they claimed their clients had not been part of it and described the charges as government overreach.

The verdict will be seen as a stunning success for prosecutors, whose years-long investigation sent shockwaves around the world of international soccer.

The trial saw a host of former soccer executives and sports marketers testify against their former colleagues. – Guardian service

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