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FIFA trial: US jury convicts two ex-soccer bosses

New York (AFP) – A US jury convicted two South American ex-soccer bosses of corruption on Friday but will return after Christmas to deliberate on the fate of a third defendant in the FIFA trial in New York.

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, on the sixth day of deliberations following an extraordinary seven-week trial.

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.

But the jury said they had not yet reached consensus on former Peru boss Manuel Burga, who faces one count of racketeering conspiracy. They will return to resume deliberations on Tuesday, after the Christmas holiday.

The trial in a Brooklyn federal court exposed systemic 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.

Government prosecutors indicted 42 officials and marketing executives, and the sports company Traffic 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 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 to matches.

They betrayed no emotion as they heard the verdicts. Napout’s family and wife, visibly nervous, were the only relatives of the defendants in court Friday.

Prosecutors said they were blinded by greed into accepting more than $17 million in bribes — Napout $10.5 million, Marin $6.55 million.

– Sentences pending –

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 only of one count of money laundering conspiracy, in relation to the Brazil Cup. He was convicted on two others, as well as of wire fraud and racketeering conspiracies.

Napout was convicted on one count of racketeering conspiracy and two counts each of wire fraud conspiracy. He was acquitted on two counts of money laundering conspiracy.

The US government told jurors that Burga, 60, agreed to receive bribes but never received them because he was under investigation at home in Peru for money laundering.

Judge Pamela Chen will now have to determine the sentences. Each count faces a maximum penalty of 20 years behind bars.

The defense has the right to appeal.

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.

The defendants mounted little case, leaving their lawyers to claim 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.

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