NEW YORK, United States, Dec 22 – A US jury convicted two South American ex-soccer bosses of corruption on Friday, the once-powerful pair swiftly remanded into custody following a New York trial that has exposed systemic corruption at the heart of FIFA.
The panel returned guilty verdicts against Jose Maria Marin, former head of Brazil’s Football Confederation and Juan Angel Napout, former head of Paraguayan football, and will return after Christmas to deliberate on the fate of a third defendant, former Peru boss Manuel Burga.
The seven-week trial in a Brooklyn federal court exposed endemic criminal activity at the heart of the world’s most popular sport, two and a half years after the United States unveiled the largest graft scandal in the history of world soccer.
On the sixth day of deliberations, Marin, 85, was convicted on six of seven counts, and Napout, 59, on three out of five, in connection with bestowing television and marketing rights to soccer matches.
They were quickly remanded into custody, as marshals in plain clothes burst into the room to surround the men. Napout had just enough time to hand a watch, neck chain and belt to his wife, who sat in the gallery for the verdict with their children.
“The defendants are facing very significant potential sentences,” said Judge Pamela Chen, dismissing pleas from defense lawyers against immediate incarceration. Marin takes medication for depression and hypertension, his lawyer said.
Under federal regulations, Marin and Napout each face at least 10 years in prison. Each conviction carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.
“I don’t think there are real reasons for appeal,” said Chen.
– FIFA reacts –
But the jury said they had not yet reached consensus on Burga, 60, who faces one count of racketeering conspiracy. They will return to resume deliberations on Tuesday.
Government prosecutors indicted 42 officials and marketing executives, as well as the sports company Traffic, and detailed 92 alleged crimes to the tune of more than $200 million, but so far only these three defendants have faced trial.
Marin and Napout betrayed no emotion as they heard the verdicts.
Prosecutors said they were blinded by greed into accepting more than $17 million in bribes — Napout $10.5 million, Marin $6.55 million.
“FIFA will now take all necessary steps to seek restitution and recover any losses caused by their misconduct,” said a spokesperson, following the convictions.
But in New York, defense lawyer refused to give up.
“We are disappointed of course and we are going to continue to fight for justice, appealing until we have a final decision,” said Marin’s lawyer Julio Barbosa.
“We’re very disappointed and we are going to continue fighting to absolve Mr Napout,” added Silvia Pinera, defense lawyer for the Paraguayan.
– Lives of excess –
Both were convicted of racketeering conspiracy under US law penalizing criminal organization — charges that have jailed mafia bosses — for accepting bribes in exchange for bestowing television and marketing rights.
In damning evidence, Marin, was recorded talking about taking bribes by associate turned US government cooperating witness, businessman Jose Hawilla, who wore a wire.
The Brazilian was acquitted on one count of money laundering conspiracy, in relation to the Brazil Cup. He was convicted on two others, as well as of wire fraud conspiracy.
In addition to racketeering conspiracy, Napout was convicted on two counts of wire fraud conspiracy and acquitted on two counts of money laundering conspiracy.
Proceedings lifted the lid on the life of privilege, luxury and excess enjoyed by members of FIFA’s executive committee — of personal chauffeurs, private jets and “presidential treatment,” luxury hotels, meetings in idyllic resorts in the Bahamas or Mauritius, and even cruises on the Danube for wives, children and grandchildren.
Their lawyers claimed that while there was indisputable corruption at FIFA, nothing suggested their clients were directly involved. None of the defendants took the stand in their own defense.
The government amassed 30 million pages of evidence and cut plea deals with a string of culprits, including Argentinian-Italian marketing executive Alejandro Burzaco, who testified during the trial, after pleading guilty and agreeing to forfeit $21 million.
Of the 42 individuals indicted, 24 have pleaded guilty — two of whom have already been sentenced by Chen. Fifteen remain in their own countries, including Brazilian football confederation president Marco Polo Del Nero, who was last week banned from soccer for 90 days as part of FIFA’s own investigation into corruption.