New York (AFP) – A former executive who cut a plea deal with US prosecutors told the FIFA trial in New York Tuesday that media companies including Fox Sports paid bribes to secure television rights to soccer matches.
Alejandro Burzaco, the former chairman of an Argentine sports marking company, pleaded guilty in November 2015 to racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies and agreed to pay $21.6 million in restitution.
In a US federal court he detailed how his Torneos y Competencias S.A. company for more than a decade paid millions of dollars in bribes to South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) executives to secure television rights to major tournaments.
Bribes were common, he said. Fox Sports, part of 21st Century Fox, Brazil’s TV Globo, Argentine group Full Play and Spain’s MediaPro were among those who paid — all partners of Torneos y Competencias, Burzaco said.
Bribes were sent by wire transfer to Swiss bank accounts or cash “in bags or envelopes,” Burzaco added.
The late Julio Grondona, a former FIFA finance chief and Argentine Football Association president, and the former president of the Brazilian Football Confederation, Ricardo Teixeira, were given “presidential treatment,” he said.
They were whisked around by private jet, with “three or four Mercedes” parked on the tarmac ready and waiting on arrival at CONMEBOL headquarters.
“They had presidential or diplomatic or royal treatment,” Burzaco testified. “Like a special dignitary there were no customs, no immigration,” he said.
The FIFA corruption trial began Monday, two and a half years after the United States unveiled the largest graft scandal in the history of world soccer.
Three South American defendants are charged with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies.
They are Jose Maria Marin, who succeeded Teixeira at Brazil’s Football Confederation, former FIFA vice president Juan Angel Napout, who was elected president of CONMEBOL in 2014 and Manuel Burga, who led football in Peru until 2014.
They are just three of the 42 officials and marketing executives, not to mention three companies, indicted in an exhaustive 236-page complaint detailing 92 separate crimes and 15 corruption schemes to the tune of $200 million.
Defense lawyers admit widespread corruption at FIFA but say there is no evidence that their clients were involved, and will seek to discredit government witnesses who are likely to include those who cut plea bargain deals in the case.
The trial is due to last five to six weeks, and prosecutors are expected to present hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence and dozens of witnesses.
If convicted by a jury, they risk up to 20 years for the most serious offenses.
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