A former FIFA vice president for South America and the Brazilian head of the 2014 World Cup have been found guilty of racketeering. The seven-week trial exposed corruption at the heart of soccer's ruling body.
Jose Maria Marin, former head of Brazil's Football Confederation, and Juan Angel Napout, former head of Paraguayan football, were convicted in New York on Friday for roles in a racketeering conspiracy after accepting bribes in exchange for granting television and marketing rights. The same charges have been used to jail mafia bosses.
Prosecutors said Napout accepted bribes of $10.5 million (€8.85 million). For his part, Marin took $6.55 million. During the trial, the lifestyle of FIFA executive committee members was described as one of privilege, luxury and excess with private jets, luxury hotels and cruises down the Danube for wives, children and grandchildren.
"The defendants are facing very significant potential sentences," said Judge Pamela Chen. Under US federal regulations, the two men could be sentenced to at least 10 years in jail. Marin was convicted on six of seven counts and Napout on three out of five.
For its part, FIFA has said it will also seek compensation for the crimes committed by Napout and Marin, despite the fact that they were high-ranking FIFA officials at the time of their crimes and allegations that others in the organization were aware of the bribes and corruption.
"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," world soccer's governing body said in a statement to The Associated Press.
Evidence against the 85-year old Marin included a discussion about taking bribes recorded by businessman Jose Hawilla, an associate who turned US government cooperating witness.
Neither Marin nor the 59-year-old Napout took the stand in their own defense. Their lawyers said that while there was indisputable corruption at FIFA, there was nothing to suggest their clients were directly involved.
The two men were described as relatively recent arrivals in the network of corruption. They were said to be in a "Group of Six" seeking a share of power and bribes alleged to be routinely taken by Julio Grondona of Argentina, Ricardo Teixeira of Brazil and Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay. Grondona was second in command to former FIFA supremo Sepp Blatter when he died in 2014, aged 82.
Plea deals with 24 accused
Prosecutors had gathered 30 million pages of evidence and cut plea deals with a number of the 42 individuals indicted on charges of corruption dating back 25 years. Some made the deal in exchange for a reduced sentence. Two of the 24 who pleaded guilty have already been sentenced by the same judge. Fifteen of those accused are still in their own countries, including Brazilian Football Confederation President Marco Polo Del Nero. He was banned from soccer for 90 days last week as part of FIFA's own investigation into corruption.
More to come
While there have been efforts to present the corruption in FIFA as belonging to the past, the new FIFA finance chairman, Paraguayan Alejandro Dominguez, was described unfavorably in court. Prosecution witness Alejandro Burzaco said Napout told him that Dominguez was "not a very successful businessman (who) will probably request" a bribe.
The jury returns after Christmas to consider the case of a third defendant, former Peru soccer boss Manuel Burga.
jm/sms (AFP, AP)